Wave: is it really a marketing failure?

As many of you may have read, Google Wave is no more. This is sad news. At the same time, I must admit that I had a Google Wave account early on, invited many of my friends there, and found myself totally unable to use it.

The majority of the many articles I read on the subject explain that this is a marketing failure on Google’s part. I take the opposite viewpoint. I believe that the marketing was more than adequate (remember all the hoopla when Wave launched?) In my view, this was really a technical failure. Interestingly, there are articles on the web that predicted Wave’s demise for technical reasons (focusing on developer adoption).

Google Wave vs. iPhone

Let’s compare Google Wave to another product presented as life-changing: the iPhone. There are a number of obvious similarities between both products:

  • Redefining state-of-the-art in an existing, flourishing market (respectively email and cell phones),
  • Helping people communicate (respectively in written and spoken form)
  • Visibly enhancing interactivity (respectively live collaboration and fluid multitouch GUI)
  • Designed for third-partiy value-add (respectively Wave extensions/protocols and App Store)

Based on this list, it seems hard to understand why the iPhone would immediately conquer hearts and minds (mine included), while Wave languished. More specifically, Google Wave conquered my mind, but not my heart. I liked the idea, I wanted to use it, but I just couldn’t find a way to do it.

Keep it Simple, Stupid

In my opinion, the technical failure of Google Wave is more readily apparent if you go to the main Google page. What is truly remarkable about this page is that a kid can use it. Grandmothers can use it. Just like the iPhone, it is not intimidating. You just get it in seconds, and you feel at ease trying stuff with it.

It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of power packed in the iPhone or the Google front page. The iPhone can host some of the best applications there is on any computing platform, programs that use your location, that detect movements, that know who your friends are, and so on. In short, stuff that explains why, in Steve Jobs’ mind, the PC is obsolete. Similarly, the Google front-page is the average Joe’s entry point to Ali-Baba’s cave Internet and its thousands of applications, games, encyclopedias, … In short, stuff that explains why in Page and Brin’s mind, the PC is obsolete.

By contrast, if you look at Google Wave, this life-changing simplicity is just absent. It is not that the basic ideas are complicated. Actually, the user interface is relatively simple, because it’s based on somewhat familiar concepts. I know how to make text bigger, I know how to drag and drop an image into it. That aspect of the product was actually quite impressive.

Wave makes the workflow more complex

The real problem using Google Wave is the workflow. You don’t use Wave or Google or the iPhone in a vacuum, you do something that prompts you to need them.

If I want to place a phone call, I take my iPhone and I can place a phone call. Actually, this particular task is the one task that is more complicated than on my good old Treo650, but I digress. If you need to know about something with Google, I just type my text in the search box, and Google does a really remarkable job figuring out what I want. Simplifying your workflow is how Google displaced Yahoo or AltaVista.

With Google Wave, keeping the simplest conversation somewhat organized proves difficult. If we are collaborating on a document, there is stuff happening all over the place. My head quickly spins just trying to figure out all the stuff that is going on. Even trying to sort my conversations is more complicated than with good old mail, when one of the big selling points is that it was supposed to be simpler.

Lessons to learn

All this is immediately relevant to what we do at Taodyne. We are trying to change the world in a pretty big way. But then, our product today is way too intimidating. In that respect, it still looks a lot more like Wave than like Google Search. You need a lot of work polishing things, making stuff “just work”, removing icons and menu entries instead of adding more.

Google claims that they learned things from Wave’s failure. So should we all.

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