As recently as last week, Google was promoting a variety of time-related extensions for Google Wave, its real-time communication platform, on its Wave blog. Had these timers, stopwatches, and countdown meters been clocking Wave's lifespan, the alarms would have gone off and the counters would have reached 00:00:00. On Wednesday, though, Wave's time ran out. That's when Google announced it has decided to stop development on Google Wave, a scant three months after making Wave available to the public.
The move may cast a pall over a presentation at USENIX HealthSec '10 next week, where Google engineers are planning to present a paper endorsing the Google Wave federation protocol for use with electronic health records.
Though loudly cheered by developers when it was introduced at the 2009 Google I/O developer conference, Wave has just not been widely used. Despite a year-long beta period, no one really succeeded in finding a compelling use for the technology. It found fans as a way to interact during conferences and as a real-time collaboration tool, but these business use cases never translated into popular appeal.
"We don't plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product, but we will maintain the site at least through the end of the year and extend the technology for use in other Google projects," explained Google SVP of operations Urs Holzle in a valedictory blog post.
Wave's principal problem was that it needed a critical mass of users to be useful; early adopters tended to visit once or twice and then seldom returned because the people they wanted to communicate with were still using e-mail, IM, Facebook, or some other system.
Google described Wave as a product, protocol, and platform. Though the product offered by Google may have met its end, the protocol and platform will live on as open-source code. Other vendors have already built their own versions of Wave, such as Novell's Pulse and SAP's StreamWork, and these products appear to be alive and well.
Novell engineering VP Andy Fox said in an e-mail that enterprise users appreciate the social connectivity, real-time co-authoring, and file presence made possible by the Wave platform.
"Novell Pulse delivers this combination that business consumers want plus security controls enterprises demand," he said. "Novell is highly committed to the future of enterprise collaboration, and Novell Pulse is on track. Further, we remain committed to pursuing the benefits of real time collaboration to enable new applications, users and organizations to work together."
Google has also made use of Wave's real-time collaboration technology, directly and indirectly, in other services, like Google Apps. The company recently rewrote the editing engines that form the foundation of its Docs and Spreadsheets products to better handle real-time collaboration, an effort informed by the development of Wave.
Holzle concludes his post by noting that Wave taught Google a lot and that the company remains proud of having pushed the boundaries of computer science.