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Courtesy WikiMedia Commons

Courtesy WikiMedia Commons

After barely a year, Google killed their next-generation collaboration tool, Google Wave.

You can read the various lamentations and exaltations yourself; I don’t have to recount them here for you. Why did they kill it? What does it mean? Where do we go from here?

The collaboration tool’s sudden infant death iterated people’s need to Keep It Simple, Stupid. Sure, it’s possible to combine chat, document collaboration, email, and whatever else they crammed into that buckshot interface. But why? If you’re like me you found it impossible to follow.

Don’t get me wrong: the way most enterprise organizations collaborate on documents and projects is downright draconian. If you’re still using email and the “Track Changes” feature in Word to share work rather than using a slick and easy-to-use project management suite like Basecamp, you need serious help.

I for one, though, like a little separation. I don’t want to save every single instant message about a project. Keeping every file up-to-date by sharing and and funneling all email communication through Basecamp, chatting via iChat, and employing other tools that do one thing each (really well, I might add) lets me keep things organized in my own brain.

Trying to figure out Google Wave was like taking a five-year-old off his Big Wheel and putting him at the helm of the Space Shuttle. Amazing and ahead of its time, sure. But a bit like killing a fly with a nuclear weapon. Too much, too fast!

Google Wave reminded me of those Tex Avery “Home of Tomorrow” cartoons. The homes featured all manner of whiz-bang technological advances that actually didn’t serve much purpose, such as the radish de-burper found in the kitchen.

(Why not take a break and watch one now? I’ll wait.)

More concretely, using Wave was like searching for a coffee maker that Just Makes Coffee. Not a combination grinder/brewer/cappuccino/steamer/frother with several parts that must be removed and recombined to make a pot of joe, like some kind of domestic Voltron. Just a pot of black coffee, please.

I always advise people that web designers, developers, advertisers and the like have one purpose: to help people solve business problems. What problem was Google Wave attempting to solve? Who asked for all that development time to be put into something so complicated and convoluted even their own employees couldn’t figure the thing out?

Maybe it didn’t solve the problem nobody asked for help with. Maybe it was created for the same reason people climb Mt. Everest or visit Graceland: because they can. More likely it was the first real attempt at giving email a serious, much-needed overhaul.

Sometime in the near future, someone will inevitably bring a Wave-clone into existence. It will have nearly identical functionality, but it will be more attractively designed (I can’t stand Google’s UI design, so drab and ugly). And this time we’ll all be ready for it. But for now we’ll all revel in the simplicity of collaborating the way we have been.

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