While enduring an endless series of flight delays and disgruntled passengers in the Baltimore airport that was my own personal travel hell on the evening of Thursday, August 5th, I came across this interesting and important article:
Even if you don’t read the article, you can see from the URL that Google has decided to put an end to the collaboration experiment known as Wave. Wave will be available through the end of the year and most of its major components are now available as open source, should any devotees choose to continue developing the code base. However, Wave didn’t reach the critical mass that Google was looking for and, without that critical mass of users, it wasn’t seeing a lot of innovation or updates to the features or UI. I view Google’s reach of 1M users as a “failure” with a bit of grin. How many other vendors out there would consider 1M users too few? Otoh, if they wanted really wide adoption, why in the world did they require a private invitation? Superior products are frequently hampered by inferior marketing and market delivery, this being a really good example.
Slide to the Rescue?
I also feel the need to point out that I have a lot of respect for Google giving the old heave-ho to a product that needs to go. Many companies cling to a great idea, funneling huge amounts of resources into what everyone else can see as a black hole. Failure, under vibrant and forward thinking leadership, is only success delayed. Read Google’s take on the situation here. Certainly, this means we’ll see Google pushing their new social media acquisition, Slide, much more as well. And, since many of the technological bits of Wave will live on, I’m sure we’ll see Slide advance in interesting ways.
Frankly, I found the general idea of Wave to be fascinating and powerful. But after spending quite a bit of time, like at least 20 minutes, tinkering around with it, I still had no idea how to do anything with it. I was so motivated to use it that I almost watched one of the videos that they’d posted to train you. But honestly, am I just ridiculously jaded or has the overall market for cloud-based apps moved the bar for ease-of-use that anything that takes more than 15 minutes to figure out is drama? I hate to say it, but I think the answer is a resounding “YES”. By extension, I think that this is the main reason that email still trumps all other methods of collaboration. (Yes, that includes Microsoft SharePoint too for all you fanboys.) That is, email does not disrupt any existing workflows, it has a clean UI, it doesn’t make you learn new ways of working, and it’s so widespread that you’re not hampered by a product that has a very limited user base.
Great Idea Leads To Great Product Success, Right?
I also feel that Google Wave is a good example of a technological solution looking for a problem, as well as a product looking for a marketing message. When launching a product, it’s crucial to have a crystal clear message to a well-defined audience. Any ambiguity in the message or muddling of the audience can spell doom. And, IMO, Google clearly missed the boat on both counts. Many of their demos were all about sharing photos. Uh, ever heard of Facebook, n’est pas? Then again, many later PR was about collaboration. Then how come we didn’t get smokin’ hot project management demos? A book that I recommend called The Innovator’s Prescription (website is here) says it very well:
“The graveyard of failed products and services is populated by things that people *should* have wanted–if only they could have been convinced those things were good for them. The home-run products in the marketing hall of fame, in contrast, are concepts that helped people more affordably, effortlessly, swiftly, and effectively do what they already had been trying to get done.” (Christensen, The Innovator’s Prescription, p. 16)
I really like Christensen’s point. So many people who build products focus on the “should” of a product, as in “this should make a lot of people happy”, over and above providing an effortless aid to people’s daily tasks. This leads me to a topic for another day, user-interface design. But enough writing for now. It’s bed time.
So what are your thoughts? Do you think other factors contributed to Wave’s decline?