You may have heard that Google is effectively killing its Google Wave product (see blog post Update on Google Wave) which is, frankly, not too much of a surprise. Some colleagues (hey Chris, Tom) and I tried to adopt it on our current project but quite simply it didn't take off, probably because we didn't know how best to use it, and from that perspective I suspect the three of us are a microcosm for the Google Wave community at large.
Wave's impending doom reminds me a lot of WinFS which got introduced at Microsoft's 2003 Professional Developers Conference (PDC). WinFS was supposed to be some kind of next generation file system based on a relational database model and was going to be the successor to NTFS, ultimately though it turned out to be a failure (not my words, that is how Peter Spiro, the head of the WinFS project, described it in an interview in 2007).
Interestingly though many of the innovations built as part of WinFS have ultimately made it into existing Microsoft products, most notably FileStream in SQL Server and the Sync Framework. Lev Novik talks about that in his interview with Dot Net Rocks in November 2009 (podcast | transcript):
Lev Novik: For instance, the file system support that was built in WinFS is now a feature of SQL Server where you can store, you can now store files in SQL Server.
Richard Campbell: Yes.
Lev Novik: And it will do a decent job at it.
Carl Franklin: Right.
Richard Campbell: And a part of the transaction.
Lev Novik: Exactly, exactly. Part of the transaction, but at the same store very efficiently and you can access them using files like APIs.
Richard Campbell: Yeah.
Lev Novik: So it's more like it's not that WinFS got -- it's shipped in other ways, not in the way that we originally intended it to ship but it's...
Carl Franklin: The thing that I like about it was the whole metadata attached to the files and
being able to just pull up files based on the metadata. A metadata is something that you really -- that's your thing.
Lev Novik: You're certainly right and that was certainly a neat thing in WinFS.
In a similar way that WinFS now infiltrates various Microsoft products I daresay that various innovations from Google Wave such as their next-gen spell checker and real-time communication are going to show up elsewhere before long too. I guess even in failure there can be some successes!