Wave Bye Bye

I’m wondering if I can just end this blog entry with the title. Pretty much sums it up.

Well, if I’m already here, I might as well right <backspace> <backspace> <backspace> <backspace> <backspace> write something.

In May of last year Google outed a product they had been keeping hush-hush developing in secret using internally, called, for reasons that I still don’t understand, “Wave”. It was a real-time keystroke-by-keystroke collaborative document chat email-killer entirely-virtual product that you could use if you invited other people to watch as you typed poorly and erased your mistakes.

It did find some fans among the academic crowd, for example when collaborating on papers or writing a college newspaper, but for the most part the sentiment was “Google Wave – what is it good for?” (for example here and here). Ah, maybe this

is what it’s good for.

However, Google has announced that they don’t “plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product”. They will, thankfully, 

maintain the site at least through the end of the year and extend the technology for use in other Google projects. The central parts of the code, as well as the protocols that have driven many of Wave’s innovations, like drag-and-drop and character-by-character live typing, are already available as open source, so customers and partners can continue the innovation we began. In addition, we will work on tools so that users can easily “liberate” their content from Wave.

Phew. Now I can breathe easy.

Wave is an absolute technical tour-de-force. The creativity that went into the real-time group aspect of the service is mind-boggling. Terrific concepts such as third-party service extensibility and automation show great thinking. Even managing to implement the system quietly (did nobody think to ask what a bunch of Danes were doing Australia? But I digress.) was a wonderful management achievement.

But.

From Day 1 what was missing for me was the product-market fit, and I’m assuming that I’m not alone on that one. Google’s reasoning for releasing the product seemed to be a little clearer. Back in those days GENO (Google Enemy Number One) was Microsoft, and Google was trying to attack it on as many fronts as possible, to wit: Gmail and the Google Apps suite. Microsoft, for its part, started striking back with Azure and cloud-hosted versions of Office. This could go on as a tactical battle for a very long time: features, price, storage. I feel, though, that the brain trust at Google

realised that in order to gain the upper hand, they needed to fight the GENO on a different battlefield. They weren’t about to kill off Exchange (hosted or otherwise) with Gmail, but what if they could make Exchange obsolete? This is, after all, something they have a bit of experience with, namely ousting the hand-curated search engines of the day (Alta Vista, Yahoo, Lycos) with their algorithm-based automated systems.

Wave presented just such an opportunity: a messaging system that is not e-mail. Once again, the business model was “free”, so free that they open-sourced the system, thus opening other fronts against the GENO (* yes, I’m going to insist on using my new acronym, just live with it) by encouraging other players to create their own Wave servers. “Here, it’s so easy, let us show you how to do it.”

Not that this is without precedent. It’s called the Web, a small Tim Berners-Lee project (that he started on a NeXT machine!!!) that was actually quite useless until another web server came online. And then another, and another. A free distributed publishing platform. And similar to the Web, Google Wave is a rather useless free distributed collaboration platform. It’s useless as long as only Google runs it, but (UX issues aside) could have been a contenda’ if only Google Biz Dev had pushed to get wider adoption. Much wider adoption.

Perhaps Google Biz Dev was smarter than that. They also didn’t see the product-market fit. New product release at Google seems to use the spaghetti test rule (maybe this is just a Canadian thing?). Let’s not do a lot of user testing (outside of the Googleplex) or market research. We shall cast our bread unto the water, and see what the fishies eat. Eric Shmidt confirms this: “We have a pretty strong view on this,” he said. “As a culture we don’t over-promote products…we tend to sort of release them and then see what happens.” 

Come again? Don’t over-promote products? Then what did you need an hour-and-a-half for?

Google may be casting too wide a net. Note the recent fails*:
Nexus One
Buzz
Wave

While Google might think it’s the tail wagging the dog, the truth is that the dog just doesn’t behave the way Google expects it to. In order for them to be ready for the next GENO (told ‘ya) – who is already out there – they need to be thinking more like us. And the next GENO knows very, very, very much about 500 million of us.

* for the lexically unchallenged: the proper word is ‘failure’, but ‘fail’ is just, y’know, so much more hip.

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