Inhabitation or, no matter how brilliant, Why #GoogleWave Will Fail


I’ve been intrigued by the launch video for GoogleWave that is going round at the moment. It’s an impressive geek-fest, for one one thing. And the product does seem pretty impressive too. The phrase that has particularly caught my attention though is ‘Googlewave is what email would be if we were inventing it now.’ And it’s on this that I think it will eventually fail, no matter how brilliant.

Why? Because email already has been invented, and I don’t like moving house.

If I look around the places I dwell: my home, my classroom at work, I see spaces that are only partly intentional. I have full control over them – I can decorate them how I wish and fill them with whatever furniture I choose. But instead of spaces that are radical statements about who I am, I see ornaments that I don’t know why I keep, tiling that I don’t really like. The boards in the floor creak, and I guess I’ll get round to fixing them someday. But not yet.

I inhabit spaces and make them home, not because they are perfect, but because I am comfortable with them. And there has to be a really good reason for me to go through the rigmarole of turning everything on its head and packing it in boxes if I’m to inhabit a new space.

The same is true technologically. I use applications that are imperfect. I’m sure there are better ones out there. But I tolerate them because I am comfortable with them. [ Check out Charlie Brooker on why, despite knowing Windows is terrible, he continues to use it. ]  I am constantly being sent new software packages to use in education. I very rarely use any of them, not because they are useless but because the time it will take me to really inhabit them – to move in to them and make them part of my everyday comfort – is too long.

And this is the trouble with Googlewave. It may well be what email would be if we invented it now. But email already has been invented, and I am comfortably at home with it. So no matter how brilliant, I can’t see myself – or a critical mass of people – moving house to inhabit a new space.

This was not the issue with email. We moved from typewritten letters to email with ease because the space was so obviously and radically new and improved. It was worth the move. It will take a lot to convince me to make that form-move again, not from paper to computer, but from computer to computer.

Which is a shame, because the guy who invented it has clearly spent ages on it, and come up with some great features. But it’s just not a killer like his previous work Google Maps – which was so immediately inhabitable because no one had a room like that before anyway.

May be that just makes me lazy. Or may be it’s something that developers will have to think more carefully about as our lives become more full.

See you all at Apple tomorrow. 7:30pm.


4 responses to “Inhabitation or, no matter how brilliant, Why #GoogleWave Will Fail”

  1. But maybe if you’re 18, or 21 — or any age and moving to a company that operates different software — you’d be up for the change. After all, you move house twice a year when you’re a student.

    What slightly unnerves me about it is how it enforces a kind of character consistency. Maybe I’m odd, but I think I can behave pretty differently in different contexts — with different people. My family sees me one way, my rugby team another. Neither is fake, just different. I don’t think we’ve solved this problem online yet — I get into all sorts of trouble on Facebook — and I can’t see Google Wave helping.

    Hoping to be there tomorrow.

  2. Yes, I’d agree with that – we are much more ‘multiple selves’ than we might think. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

    Perhaps those who are younger will begin to pioneer this and perhaps there will be a big shift over time. But somehow some deeper work within the ‘cloud’ model needs to happen – the raw data not just of contacts, but off the contexts within which we relate to those contacts.

  3. ive been wondering for a while where the line of demarcation is between utilitarian comfort and learning curve laziness/inability.

    im also curious just how connected we will tolerate our world becoming.

  4. I agree it can’t replace email completely, for every use case.

    There are also network effects with email, the critical mass you mention. In other words, it’s not just individual inertia but that of the crowd.

    On the other hand, email cannot be the Swiss army knife of collaboration. People have treated it as such because of this friction in learning new tools.

    I can’t imagine going back to attachments after trying Google Docs. It makes total sense – one version of the document, many people collaborating on it. This week we were trying to convince a colleague to try Google Docs and abandon the safe, familiar and totally clumsy world of email attachments! It’s an example of network effects in the other direction – towards more suitable (but by no means perfect) tools.