Productivity software

Google Wave Code Could Live on in Future Open Source Projects

Although Google Wave will go down as one of Google's few high-profile failures, the innovative collaboration tool did attract a small group of dedicated followers who hope it will live on as an open source project.

Few people wanted Google Wave to succeed as much as Gina Trapani, a programmer and tech writer who authored "The Complete Guide to Google Wave," which, she notes good-naturedly, very quickly became little more than a history book or, hopefully, a collector's edition.

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Trapani believes Wave was "ahead of its time," and that Google didn't effectively explain the service's true benefits, which is what made the Complete Guide necessary. Wave was "so much better" than the more popular Google Docs, she says.

"I absolutely loved Wave. The reason it got killed was it was ahead of its time," Trapani says. "People don't understand its purpose. The thing I loved about it is it solved the problem of group communication via email and chat, those annoying group email threads that blossom into reply all hell."

Google has already open sourced much of Wave.

"The central parts of the code, as well as the protocols that have driven many of Wave's innovations, like drag-and-drop and character-by-character live typing, are already available as open source, so customers and partners can continue the innovation we began," Google senior vice president Urs Holzle wrote in the blog post that announced Wave's cancelation, due to low user adoption. "In addition, we will work on tools so that users can easily liberate their content from Wave."

The source code for the Google Wave federation protocol, the "underlying network protocol for sharing waves between wave providers," can be downloaded here.

A few Network World readers who commented on the story "Google Wave Washes Out" expressed disappointment in its cancelation and hope that it will live on as an open source project.

"My experience with Wave has been a very successful and productive one," one commenter said. "With Wave, the team I have been working with [has] been able to collaborate on projects from a number of different countries and time zones. We simply would not have been able to do it without Wave."

"Myself and a few other people in NZ and Australia were using this to collaborate on the running of a website, and found it really handy," writes another commenter. "Once you got into it, it was really easy to use. Just hope that there will be something we can use to replace it."

While the Wave code could live on in Google projects such as Buzz, Docs and Google Me, Trapani says it's hard to predict whether Google will put more of the Wave code into the open source domain. One issue is decoupling Wave code from the rest of Google's code base.

"I think, obviously, a lot of the code is already open sourced. I'm not sure if they'll open source more," she says.

There may be enough code out there already for ambitious developers to pick up where Google left off. While it's easy to think Google's failure indicates that it's unlikely anyone else will succeed, Trapani notes that many successful open source projects are based on abandoned projects and forks.

Google's failure may have been promising too much. "They said it's the new e-mail. That was a misstep. It set expectations very high, and it wasn't really an e-mail replacement," Trapani says. "No one understood how it would fit in their life."

Google Wave worked best with teams of six to 12 people, Trapani believes. Using the Google Wave code base, developers outside of Google might someday create a successful live project management tool.

"It has a lot of potential," she says. "Someone else could pick up that code which is arguably built by some of the best web engineers that exist, and do something with it and create another product."

Wave essentially combined document collaboration and messaging into one interface. Instead of e-mailing or instant messaging back and forth, collaborators make the conversation part of the document. The document could contain as many conversation "trees" and "branches" as necessary, each appearing in the section of the document that is being discussed. Sharing photos, maps and other media was also easy within Wave, she says.

Unfortunately, people didn't get it.

"It was not immediately obvious how to use Wave and what to use Wave for," Trapani says. "I felt like it really needed explanation."

Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jbrodkin

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