Data Addict

Startups, Self Quantification, and Internet Culture


Now You Are a Geek: Saying Goodbye to Wave

Google Wave closed write access several days ago. This had been on my radar for some time, but as a heavy user and advocate of the service, it’s difficult to see it go.

This has made me realize that seeing a pet project die is a right of passage for a career technologist. It’s not just that it’s a coming of age event, it’s an important part of becoming better at building and improving ideas.

When I was young, I didn’t think about technology or specific projects as transitory. I had such a short period of reference that everything was effectively permanent. I used Altavista for search because that was the only search engine that had ever existed and I played Descent 2 because it was the best game. I spent a lot of time playing games, trying operating systems, and installing utilities without thinking much about the people behind those monoliths of time and effort.

When you don’t have an ownership stake in what you consume, it’s easy to remain agnostic about games, operating systems, programming languages, server platforms, SDKs, editors, project management styles, deployment techniques,  and a hundred other topics about which developers care deeply.  As I transitioned from being a consumer of web technology to a producer, I began forming opinions about the tech that surrounded me.

I love Google App Engine, dislike AWS, love Python, hate Java, dislike Windows, but think Mac OS is for snobs, snub Firefox for Chrome, love Winamp, hate iTunes, loath antivirus software, prefer Google hangouts to Skype, and a hundred other subjective preferences. For having so many pet technologies, I have seen remarkably few get abandoned. Among those that I have lost, Wave has been the most important.

I was enamored with Wave because of the ideals and dreams of the people who invented it. I don’t know much about the creators of Winamp [1] but I could put a face to the Wave development team and I wanted them to dethrone email, destroy chat programs, and better organize all web communication.

The fact that it failed makes me more of a real geek. I invested heavily in Wave and will now pay the price [2]. But in going away, Wave has also taught me some valuable lessons. I’ve learned that even well-funded projects die, technology doesn’t often win out against established behaviors, and evangelism can only go so far.

The pace of innovation in web technology is accelerating and there is a tendency to avoid investing in any platform, but I think that it is the mark of a mature and invested hacker to have a small cemetery of pet technologies to grieve for. Don’t hang on and be that backwards guy who wants to implement everything in Pascal, but remember what you’ve lost and use it to build better products in the future.

[1] This is because I wasn’t old enough when Winamp was disruptive and being talked about, I have heard anecdotes that suggest it is quite an interesting story.

[2] Endless exporting and unsorted data migrations await. There is a strong temptation to accept the data loss and start over on another platform, but there is data in Wave that I simply cannot afford to lose.

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