When Google announced their Google Wave product in May 2009, the world sat up and took notice. Why wouldn’t they? Google were making incredibly bold claims about replacing email and instant messaging – and in the process intended to revolutionize online communication.

And while the initial response was amazing – Google Wave reached 100,000 users within a few days of the beta, and invites were even being sold on eBay – it never got the traction Google wanted, and it has now been shut down.

What lessons can we learn?

I think the key lesson is never to underestimate the difficulty in replacing entrenched ways of working and communicating. The simple fact that Wave didn’t integrate into email meant that the few people that were on Wave had yet another place to look for messages – and Wave quickly fell by the wayside when all their other communications were on email. Email is also very good at what it does – asynchronous communication between individuals or broadcast communication between many, and replacing it wholesale would take something very special indeed.

The second lesson is about the user experience. While Google Wave had a lot of revolutionary features, they were often poorly explained, hard to find and unintuitive once you found them. This made unlocking the potential of the product even harder – and ultimately users voted with their browser and simply went elsewhere.

Here at Huddle, we pride ourselves on our integration into your existing workflow – be it email, Microsoft Office, SharePoint or your mobile device. Huddle then complements your existing tools and expands their capabilities – instead of being yet another communications channel you have to remember to monitor. Doing this in an as user-focused a manner as possible is our constant goal.

Google did some amazing engineering work on Google Wave and, with most of it open sourced – including the Wave protocol – I fully expect to see the underlying technology used in more and more applications. However,  it failed to understand the users’ needs and that’s why the product itself was doomed from the start.

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