This post has been rolling round in my head ever since Google Wave got discontinued. With the recent spate of Wave engineers leaving Google’s employ I thought it would be a good time to put these thoughts out there. Let me know what you think in the comments.
I thought Google Wave was a great idea. I watched the entire one hour twenty minute presentation:
(Seriously, it’s probably still worth watching, even now.)
I applied for a beta account. I really wanted to give it a try. I really thought it might make big changes to the way people communicate.
What was it? Given that it failed, that is Google cancelled the beta and stopped providing the service, I had better explain what Wave was (is) for those of you who are not tech geeks, Google followers or who do not otherwise live on the internet. It seemed to provide the best of email, instant messaging, wikis and more in one smooth bundle.
Why did it fail?
Well, I don’t think Google did themselves any favours in that respect. They put a lot of hype around the initial beta release and, if you look at the videos and blog posts by Googlers at the time, they were all very excited about it and supposedly a lot of Googlers were using it internally (is that still true?). There is a gigantic chicken and egg problem associated with any new form of communication. When I say chicken and egg problem I don’t necessarily think that chickens and eggs suffer from the chicken and egg problem: The problem for any new form of communication is that it has to be accessible to a large number of people for it to be useful – early adopters don’t necesarily get as much benefit from it as those that folllow. For example, when Skype first came out you couldn’t Skype call that many people because not many people had Skype installed. Skype dealt with this in two ways. First, they made it so you could call normal telephones from within Skype and they priced these calls to be extremely competitive. Second, the Skype software was freely available for anyone to download and anyone could create a free Skype account. How did Google deal with the problem? Well, they made it a closed beta test – by invitation only. Those in the beta test couldn’t use it for all their communications because only those in the beta could use it. So those beta testers didn’t have the best experience using it and everyone else didn’t get to play.
How could Google have done things differently? Well, how about overlaying the wave experience over Gmail and rolling Gtalk into it? “Well” you say (and it’s my blog, you’ll say whatever words I put in your mouth!), ” then they would have had to make it available to everyone. It wouldn’t have been a beta test and Google would have had to make a whole lot more servers available to cope with the load”. But I don’t think that gives Google enough credit – they have hired an awful lot of really intelligent geeks over the years. Surely they could have made the wave features only available to those in the beta. And sure, if they were communicating with someone outside the beta they might not have all the features of wave available to them. But those beta testers would be using one platform – wave/gmail/gtalk combined – rather than the three platforms individually for email, instant messaging and waving. Which means the beta testers would have no reason to switch out of wave, they would be able to enjoy increasing benefits from wave as more people joined the beta test. And that, I believe, is how Google could have made Wave a success.
Anyone reading this from a big ISP or webmail provider? You could do the same. Google has Open Sourced the Wave project for anyone to use. I really though facebook was going to come out with something similar with all the hype around the launch of facebook email. When they talked up how it was going to be a new revolution it sounded like it could have been similar to the launch of Wave. But it hasn’t really delivered so far.
Did I just get caught up in the hype surrounding Wave or could this have been really awesome? What do you think?