The recent announcement that Google Wave is being abandoned is a pointed reminder that technical firepower is not enough to drive customer adoption. In fact, sometimes the best products or applications are still-born due to their complexity and range of capabilities. This blog post is a good autopsy of Wave’s demise.
The theory behind Wave was solid – ostensibly providing an integrated (and free) platform for real-time collaboration and networking. But the reality was that it was too much for most consumers to bite off. I tried Google Wave and actually used it on several client projects…or more accurately I used a couple of small features in the platform (notably using an email “wave” to track online comments.) But I found it very difficult to understand – despite the Google video demos and blog posts – and quickly gave up on learning how to use the numerous features. With a plethora of similar choices (and new applications launching seemingly every few weeks) my peers and I eventually all stopped using the tool. It didn’t help that virtually nobody we worked with used it, and even fewer could tell us how it actually worked. And that’s really the secret to success or failure with new technology.
It’s long been an axiom that most of use have only a faint understanding of how to properly use technology – think of the story (perhaps apocryphal) that the majority of us only use about 10% of the capability of popular tools like Outlook – but we’ll use the tools if they provide obvious benefits and are relatively easy to adopt. And for successful technology you can always find somebody who can provide an expert hand. Wave didn’t have that entry-level of use, and the Google folks never clearly articulated the value proposition for the vast majority of us who aren’t engineers or geeks.
Some folks have been hard on Google and see this latest failure as another example of hubris, or at least a serious lack of consumer insight. But Google has long followed its own technology muse and will likely continue to throw innovative products at the wall to see what sticks. And their proactive approach to product introductions – try to anticipate demand rather than follow the pack – has some merit. But it may be time for them to think less like an engineering company and more like a consumer marketing organization. Google’s own blog post announcing Wave’s shuttering suggests they’ve taken this lesson to heart. If not, the predictions of Facebook’s increasing dominance of the Internet (with 500 million users and counting) may become a reality.