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Can we be not ready for a technology?

İsmail is definitely finding me some topics to write about lately… this time it was in relation to a tweet of mine ranting on about Wave’s futility, I think I should elaborate a bit about this topic.

Regarding the Wave rant, which adds to my first impression posted a few weeks ago, I think things are starting to go downhill. From one side, more and more people started having Google Wave so you can find people to talk with, from the other, of the Waves I received, only one was actually interesting (but still nothing that makes me feel like Wave was useful), the rest falls into two categories: from one side, you get the ping tests, which I admit I also caused – because obviously the first thing you do in something like Wave is pinging somebody you feel comfortable to talk with – and on the other hand I had three different waves of people… discussing Wave itself.

And you know that there is a problem when the medium is mostly used to discuss itself.

And here is where me and İsmail diverge: for him the problem is that “we’re not ready” for the Wave technology; myself, I think that the phrase “we’re not ready” only can come out of a sci-fi book, and that there is something wrong with the technology if people don’t seem to find a reason to use it at all. But I agree with him when he says that some technologies, like Twitter, would have looked definitely silly and out of place a few years ago. I agree because we have had a perfect example that is not hypothetical at all.

You obviously all do know Apple’s Dashboard, from which even the idea of Plasma for KDE seems to have come from, and from which Microsoft seemingly borrowed heavily for the Vista and Win7 desktop. Do you think Apple was the first to think about that stuff? Think again.

It was 1997, and Microsoft released Internet Explorer 4, showing off the Active Desktop… probably one of the biggest failures in their long-running career. The underlying idea is not far at all from that of Apple’s “revolutionary” Dashboard: pieces of web pages to put on your desktop. At the same time, Microsoft released one of their first free development kits: Visual Basic 5 Control Creation Edition (VB5CCE) that allowed you to learn their VB language, and while you couldn’t compile applications to redistribute, you could compile ActiveX controls, which could in turn be used by the Active Desktop page fragments. Yes, I did use VB5CCE; it was what let me make the jump from the good old QBasic to Windows “programming”.

So, if the whole concept of Dashboard (and Plasma, and so on) makes people so happy now, why did it fail at the time? Well, to use İsmail’s words “we weren’t ready for it”; or to use mine, the infrastructure wasn’t ready. At the time, lots of users were still not connected to any network, especially outside of the US; staying connected costed, a lot, and bandwidth was limited, as were the resources of the computers. Those of us (me included) who at the time had no Internet connection at all, were feeling deprived of resources for something totally useless for them; those who had dial-up Internet connections would feel their bandwidth be eaten up by something they probably didn’t care enough about.

Who was at fault here? Us for not wanting such nonsense running on our already underpowered computers, or Microsoft for wanting to push out a technology without proper infrastructure support? Given the way Apple was acclaimed when they brought Dashboard to their computers, I’d say the latter, and they actually paid the price of pushing something out a few years too early. Timing might not be everything, but it’s definitely something.

Comments 4
  1. The main thing with google wave it that you need to have people to talk to, since there is no interoperability with other networks (email, rss/atom feeds, …)(maybe bots, but I it’s not advertised by google anyway).This is exactly the same problem than IM networks, where you have to gain some momentum before anybody will consider using it.Here, I know some people who would use it if they could.I think that one thing that would be needed is groups of waves, like online forums, or mailing-lists.

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