Is email here to stay?

Earlier this month, Google Wave celebrated its first birthday, and in May it stopped being an invitation-only site and opened up to everyone. So I felt it an appropriate time to raise the question in the title.

When Google Wave was unveiled, it was touted as the way email would have been created it was invented today. For brief communications email is fine, and if a ‘snail mail’ type of communication is required, but in the modern world where email has become more of a collaboration engine, a plethora of emails get created around a discussion issue and it can be difficult to track or recall the full flow of the discussion. Google came up with Wave as a better way to communicate and collaborate using the Internet, HTTP and a browser.

Actually, the original title of this blog was “the end of as as we know it” – but I started planning it some time ago before I (and others) discovered how difficult it was to get people to use Google Wave. In my opinion, the problem for Google is that email has been a paradigm that has developed and strengthened over 40 years, and it would take something extremely innovative and convincing to get people to move from email en masse. Nevertheless, the introduction of Wave has led to other IT companies getting on the same band-wagon, so IBM is working on Vulcan, and SAP is developing StreamWork.

To answer the question in the title, the answer seems to be ‘yes, email is here to stay’, that is until a sufficient motivation can be found to get people to stop using traditional email, or the transition is relatively seamless. This conclusion was also reached by the Forrester analyst group. In discussing why Google Wave wasn’t successful, an interesting comment was made:

 Google’s decision to release Wave as a platform, instead of a product, was both a curse and a blessing.

If Google has held back on Wave for a little longer and released it to the developer community without all the fanfare that it had, it might have been able to release a ‘product’ which was easier for the average user to adopt and leverage.

When it comes to technology innovation, Microsoft has proven that it is not necessarily at the cutting edge but it catches up pretty quickly. This can be seen in the announcements around Office 2010 and Sharepoint 2010, including co-authoring and unified communication. I think it is quite likely that Microsoft could deliver a communication and collaboration tool that runs inside Outlook, making the transition from email to the ‘new communication style’ easier for the vast  majority of Office and Outlook users.

I would be interested to get some opinions – can Microsoft do it, will Google Wave ultimately triumph, is the ‘new communication paradigm’ valid and feasible?

Google Wave vs. SharePoint

I have done a comparison of products from Google and Microsoft before, and now it’s time for another one – this time on Google Wave vs. SharePoint. At my office, we have been trying out  Google Wave, but  we are also a starting to use SharePoint so I have had the opportunity to use both.

Google Wave is a web application for real-time communication and collaboration. That means it allows you to view a document or a conversation at the same time that someone else is editing and updating it, and see those changes happen in real-time. The Google spin is that “With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time.” Note that Google still refer to Wave as a beta-test product.

SharePoint (officially its Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, aka MOSS) is a product that Microsoft have been gradually developing and building for the last 3-4 years. It provides a platform for content and document management, collaboration and enterprise portals.

Here is my Pros and Cons of both products:

Wave

Pros

  • Ease of access, access via browser
  • Easy to read and edit
  • The extensions, which are innovative and growing

Cons

  • If you are using Internet Explorer, the Chrome Framework is required
  • Sign-up for non-Google users is laborious
  • No printing capability
  • Poor support for export/import docs (an extension to do that didn’t seem to work and was difficult to understand)
  • The results of pasting text is not predictable

SharePoint

Pros

  • Support for all Office files

Cons

  • Hierarchical nature – everything is part of a hierarchy of information, which can make finding documents difficult
  • From my experiences elsewhere, it is implementation specific
  • The process of checking documents out to edit them, and then checking back in is confusing and annoying

Both applications provide alerts for when documents change.

Overall report

While I think Google Wave is a great tool, it has been difficult to get many in my office to adopt it. In effect, moving to Google Wave is also a change management project. Another Google Wave project sums up a number of issues:

  • Not everyone has access to it, nor do most people care to get access
  • It’s slow
  • We weren’t using it right

Although a larger project seems to have been successful.

When I started planning this blog, I wasn’t sure how I would end it. However, in the last week a new development has introduced a new slant – Microsoft’s announcment of Office 2010, which includes a new feature called ‘co-authoring‘. This appears to offer the same functionality as Google Wave – allowing multiple people to work on a document at the same time. If Office 2010 delivers on the promise it appears to offer, Google Wave is not going to get into the enterprise.

Why Google has taken so long working on Wave in beta, and not given it the capabilities that enterprises require, I do not know. If they want to get it adopted in companies, Google needs to start considering the organisational issues of implementing the system, and not just focus on cool technology features.

At the moment, I think Google has squandered a good chance it had of getting into the enterprise via a route that (initially) didn’t compete head-on with Microsoft. Unless Google make some substantial development efforts very soon I think they will lose out. Do you agree? What is your experience with Wave?

(Note: The comments expressed here are my own, based on my experiences with the products, and do not necessarialy reflect the views of my employer)