Google on Wednesday called an end to its ambitious Wave project, an online collaboration service that it once hailed as a potential replacement for e-mail. The company said the service, launched with great fanfare a year ago, would be closed at the end of this year, though the technology behind it could be used in future Google projects.
The project marked an attempt to reinvent e-mail by allowing a group of users to communicate and share information simultaneously in the same workspace on the web. Wave’s most eye-catching innovation was a feature that let users see what others were writing in real time, character by character.
That real-time approach tapped into excitement about the possibilities for instant interaction online, fuelled by communication sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Hype around Wave was built further by the limited availability of the service, which was by invitation only.
However, it quickly became apparent that Wave was more akin to a collaborative working system for businesses than to social networks.
The service was deemed too complicated by many users, with an explanatory video lasting more than an hour. Earlier this year Google had said it planned to simplify the service, but this failed to boost uptake.
“Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked,” Urs Hölzle, lead Wave developer, said in a blog post announcing the closure.
Lars Rasmussen, head of the Wave development team, conceded this year that Wave was “a little daunting” for new users, and that Google had “failed to answer the question of what can I actually use Wave for, right now, right here”.
Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, told a conference in California on Wednesday that the company liked the user interface and some features, which would be incorporated into new Google technologies that were still in development.
“It’s a very clever product and we liked what it could do,” he said. “We try things and remember we celebrate our failures.”
Another recent example of its approach to innovation and it rapid shuttering of unsuccessful projects was Google’s attempt to sell mobile phones running its Android software directly through its own website, rather than through operators.
The site was closed after seven months.
The announcement of Wave’s closure comes amid rising anticipation of a greater push by Google to add social networking features to its wide range of services.
Reports overnight on news sites including Techcrunch suggest that Google will imminently announce the acquisition of Slide, a provider of several popular Facebook games and applications, for about $200m.
Google has also been reported to be discussing ways to partner with or invest in several other online gaming services, such as Zynga and Playfish, as it seeks to understand more about the relationships between people online, an area in which Facebook is the current leader.
None of these companies has commented on the talks. Mr Schmidt yesterday acknowledged that some of the recent leaks had been accurate. “We’ve always believed that our products would be better with more social signals,” he said. “We’re not trying to do what Facebook does. It needs technologies around friends and relationships to be provided to everything.”
Some commentators see social networks as posing a long-term strategic challenge to Google, as consumers discover new products or services from friends’ recommendations rather than through search engines.
As it found with Wave, Google Buzz, the company’s latest attempt at social networking, has been greeted with a mixed reception and limited uptake from users.