Google Wave Pushes AppJet to Sell Out to Google

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-12-05

Google Wave Pushes AppJet to Sell Out to Google

Google purchased real-time document collaboration startup AppJet to fortify the Google Wave real-time collaboration platform, AppJet said on its blog Dec. 4.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, though GigaOm reported a purchase price of $10 million. The move was a sellout by a company that felt it couldn't compete with the sheer scope of Wave and Google, one of AppJet's investors said. 

Formed by several ex-Google employees, AppJet makes EtherPad, which enables users to import word processing documents, Web pages, PDFs and plain text files, and lets several them edit them at the same time. When multiple people edit the same document simultaneously, any changes are instantly reflected on everyone's screen. These sessions are saved as "pads."  

As such, EtherPad essentially fulfills one of the core traits of Wave, which rolls e-mail, instant messaging, document collaboration, file sharing and social networking into one platform. Paul Graham, partner for AppJet investor Y Combinator, wrote:

"The reason they decided to go with Google was that they were literally overwhelmed by Wave: after meeting the Wave guys, they were so impressed that they (a) wanted to work on Wave themselves, and (b) didn't want to compete with it. After watching the Appjets tough it out for the past two years, I knew they weren't simply being cowards."

However, there were some key differences in the way Wave and Etherpad toil in the market. Google is gradually rolling out the HTML5-based Wave for free to more than 100,000 users and has made it explicitly a public platform released under open source.

EtherPad is based on JavaScript and was offered three ways. AppJet offered EtherPad Free Edition, where pads are partially secured by creating unique and non-guessable URLs. For $8 per user per month, EtherPad Professional was geared for companies or individuals who would like to have their data hosted securely on AppJet's servers. For $99 per user, EtherPad Private Network Edition was a license for a company to run EtherPad internally on its own servers.

Now EtherPad is no longer accepting new customers, and anyone who have registered an e-mail address with EtherPad will be e-mailed an invitation to join the Google Wave preview by Dec. 31, 2009.

Users of the Free Edition or Professional Edition will be able edit their existing pads until March 31, 2010, but no new free public pads may be created and pads and info associated with them will be deleted after that date. Professional Edition users will not be charged for the EtherPad service after Dec. 4.

AppJet Sellout the Latest in Googles Shopping Spree

AppJet is also letting Free Edition users export their pad data through the "Import/Export" tab at the top of the pad page. Professional Edition users can export their pads as one ZIP file archive through a "Download all pads" link at the bottom of the pad list after signing in to their account.

Private Network Edition customers can continue to use the version of the product that they have downloaded, and AppJet will continue to offer support and maintenance services through the current term of any existing support and maintenance contracts. No existing contracts will be renewed.

While these may seem like reasonable terms for a company that has sold out, EtherPad users are angry and Graham's explanation of why AppJet quit is unlikely to appease them. Dwsm wrote:

"As a teacher heavily involved in staff training I am completely gutted by this decision. I had been winning hearts and minds re integrating web 2.0 technologies into classroom practice and etherpad was one of the most popular tools amongst my colleagues. Google wave is not an option in the classroom (at least not in it's current manifestation). Looks like we will have to give a go. Such a shame."

ReadWriteWeb was duly sickened by the move, which is quickly becoming par for the course in Silicon Valley:

"They didn't even pretend to be sorry about closing the service. They didn't thank any community of users for help along the way. They just said the deal is done, here's what's happening to the money you paid, now get out."

But perhaps the high-tech world should have seen this coming. AppJet COO Daniel Clemens peppered Wave with backhanded compliments in a blog post one week after Google unveiled Wave at Google I/O, noting among other things that Wave is a lot to handle and that not every real-time collaboration user will want to work in the public cloud. Clemens added:

"We think that Wave's additions are neat and could imagine an EtherPad/Wave integration being quite powerful for certain use cases. However, when it comes to the kind of written work that most knowledge workers need to produce, we think that less is more. ... We will be looking into the Wave platform with great interest. Interoperability with Wave is a possibility, if it fits with our mission of providing the best user experience we can."

If you can't beat them, get bought by them?

Meanwhile, Google's acquisition spree continues unabated. Google CEO Eric Schmidt said during Google's third-quarter earnings call Oct. 15 that Google would acquire one company per month.

AppJet was Google's sixth purchase of 2009 and fourth in the last month. Those include from most recent to oldest: AppJet, ad specialist Teracent, softphone maker Gizmo5, mobile display ad power AdMob, Web ID provider ReCaptcha and video compression ace On2 Technologies.

When Schmidt said the worst of the recession was over, for Google, he wasn't kidding.

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