Wave fails, Twitter wins. Why?

I was one of those lucky people given early admission to Google Wave. There was only one problem. Once we had Google Wave, we couldn't figure out what to do with it. And if we, a bunch of techno-geeks and technology journalists, couldn't come up with a good use for Wave, what chance did anyone else have? So it came as no surprise when I learned today that Google is pulling the plug on Wave.

I never met anyone who found a real use for Wave. They instead found IM (instant messaging), wikis, Google Docs, Lotus Notes, or, heck, good old-fashioned e-mail lists do a better job at helping them work in groups.

It's been months since I've used Google Wave, so I'm not going to miss it — is anyone? But I wonder why some ideas that sound good, like Wave, fail, while others that sound silly, like Twitter, take off.

Twitter? Silly!? Yes, silly. Come on, think about it: a way of broadcasting in real time your thoughts to those who want to bother to read them in 140-character sized batches? Why should this work? Especially, when IM systems like Internet Relay Chat (IRC) had let people do the same thing for decades! IRC also lets you hold real-time conferences of like-minded people on a particular topic and -- this is a big one, folks -- it doesn't lock you into a 140-character-sized thought jail. So why is IRC still used mostly by developers and other tech heads, while Twitter reached 75 million users in January 2010? Darned if I know.

Part of it is the user culture. IRC has always been for techies, but there's nothing about it that would keep anyone from using it. If you can use Twitter, you can use IRC. Wave, on the other hand, is harder to use — rather, Wave was easy to mess around with, but figuring out how to make it do anything productive was another matter.

You could argue there's nothing about Twitter that's productive, but that's not really true. I know plenty of people who use Twitter as a way to share ideas and work together. I do that myself.

So what is it about one idea about how people can talk and work together that can suddenly catch fire and become wildly popular while another gathers virtual dust? You got me. If I could predict it, I probably would be working on my first billion, instead of writing for a living.

Hmmm ... Maybe if I took IRC and rebranded it as IRCbook or maybe MyIRC. Oh! I know: IRC-witter. That will do the trick!

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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