Google made a splash with their demo launch video for Wave. The ripples flowed through the social web as some, me included, anticipated great things. It was Google after all, and when do they fail? (more often than you’d think, it turns out). Beyond the great Google stamp of awesome though, any communication product that could translate two-way conversations on the fly surely was a game-changer, right? That feature wasn’t even core to the product, in fact, it was almost mentioned as an afterthought — “… by the way,” the demonstrators seemed to say, “this Phaeton also turns into a plane. Moving on…”
Later, (though, probably not soon enough later) the Wave was unleashed to general users with “limited” invites. They joined, linked up, and tried to ride the Wave.
And, if Google Trends had been hooked up to Wave, the highest term would have been “uh… What now?”
Days later, the Wave never hit the shore.
So now that it’s gone, what can we learn?
Even the savvy users didn’t get it. (perhaps some of the savviest did, but I digress) What was the purpose? What problem is this product solving? It was undefined, or too complex.
Google seemed to go against it’s own process, so giddy on it’s own cleverness. What happened to Marissa Mayer and her crusade for simplicity? When the iPhone launched, it didn’t offer the app store or iTunes. These features were introduced later. Even when Google itself launched, it was a search bar and a results page. The value revealed itself, and seemed to work as if by magic.
So the Wave team didn’t answer the most crucial question – who is it for? Did Google understand it’s customer, or just focus on the product? As Steven Gary Blank describes in “The Four Steps To The Epiphany,” companies that are creating a product for a new market must sell simplicity. If it’s a new concept that I have to try to understand and a new set of behaviors I have to adopt, you’d better make it easier for me than whatever I’m already using (waaay easier). Moreover, did Google think past the launch – how the product would roll out socially as well as technologically? To what influencers did they roll the product out, first? As in the case of the recent Flipboard launch, where Robert Scoble tested first and was very happy to extol the virtues of Flipboard at launch. Wave could have partnered with not only individuals, but organizations to demonstrate through case studies or events just what it was for, and how it improved our lives.
Instead, the launch was pseudo-Steve-Jobsian, a tablet-on-the-mount speech that blew us away, but had no pay-off. With iPhone launches, however, there is physical social currency, whereas passionate Wave advocates and avid users were hidden. Which brings us to the most important point – one that Google of all companies should understand and execute without fail: Connection.
Ironically, this is what Google Wave set out to improve, and yet this is what it failed to provide. Modern services developed for widespread use must connect with other services. Wave didn’t even connect properly with Gmail. The most basic connection, notifications, required a hacky plug-in and a significant time investment. Of course, once one user had installed notification, there were few other users with it, so the Waves would stall anyway. Further, there was no connection to other tools and services that we use on a daily basis. If Wave activity was associated with a user’s existing social profile, on Facebook or Twitter, the product might have had a fighting chance.
Like Apple’s Newton, this could be another case of too much, too soon. As with Apple, its Newton and its iPhone, the market wasn’t ready for the technology or the change in behaviour. We knew it would happen, eventually, but there was still a long way to go. Will it be Google that reintroduces the wave concept in a few years, or will it be another provider, say Facebook with it’s unmatched engagement and depth of profile to facilitate Wave 2.0’s introduction; or an entirely new provider, with a more disruptive vision and an understanding of the future of on-demand, live, ubiquitous connection? Will it be you?
Regardless of whom starts Wave 2.0, at least we’ll always have the Pulp Fiction Wave: