What the Wave Taught Us

August 5, 2010 at 11:12 AM 2 comments

When Google announced its Wave project in 2008, some of us in the company were excited – our company relies on online collaboration, and Wave seemed to be a way to keep a continuously-running virtual meeting room open for us to throw in ideas and work on projects. But we never took on Wave, and neither, it seems, did others.

It wasn’t a lack of publicity. Most people knew at least that Wave existed, even if they didn’t know what it did. What did Wave in? A few thoughts:

Barriers to adoption
– Google Wave required buy-in from IT departments, which tend to stay with what they have unless they’re given an absolutely delightful reason to switch.

Message not received – Just what was Google Wave? People still aren’t sure. It was very hard to describe, and they never really got their spiel down to a business card-sized statement. What is it? “Equal parts conversation and document” – well, okay, but what is it?

Too much thinking required.
A tough learning curve won’t deter PhotoShop users, but we tend to be less forgiving of free applications. Strange, but if you haven’t invested money, you’re less likely to invest time either. You don’t need a 20-minute video to learn how to tweet.

No chance for gradual adoption. Google search built its market share one person at a time. Facebook too. But to use Wave, you needed to enroll a bunch of people right off the bat, and ensure that they all learn how to use the program. Too much like work.

It’s a failure, but not a tragedy. As Googling Google points out, this was a lab project – an experiment. Google learned a lot from the experience, and already harvested the patient’s organs for use in Gmail and Google Apps. To fail well and constructively – that’s a skill worth honing.


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Innovation and Policing Building Loyalty

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bob MacNeal  |  August 6, 2010 at 6:21 AM


    Each one of your points contributed to the beaching of Google Wave.

    I place the heaviest weight on “Message not received” and “Too much thinking required”. Design expert Don Norman says “Forget the complaints against complexity; instead, complain about confusion”. To me Google Wave was a big ball of whizz-bang confusion.

    Google Wave is an example of a product with high degree of functionality, but a low degree of usability. It failed because second-tier adopters could not get their arms around a confusing, counter-intuitive interface that lacked suitable metaphors (e.g., email has an “In Box”).

    Microsoft Bob is an example of a product with a low degree of functionality (i.e., basically Windows 3.1 for dummies), but a high degree of usability (e.g., Bob used a house with rooms metaphor). Bob failed because early and 2nd-tier adopters were put off by its simplification of an already easy-to-use OS (Why can’t I use “smart people” Windows instead?).

    I suspect Google Wave bots and gadgets will re-appear in other Google products — perhaps we’ll see some in Google’s rumored Facebook-Killer “Google Me”.

    Thanks for your concise post-mortem.

    • 2. Thompson  |  August 6, 2010 at 10:51 AM

      You’re right, Bob – functionality and usability are two different things. If you don’t live inside your user’s minds – by listening actively and empathetically – you’ll pay the price. Thanks for your comment!


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Thompson Morrison

Thompson Morrison

About Thompson

As CEO of FUSE Insight, Thompson Morrison uses powerful new web interviewing technologies to help businesses better align their brand with the needs and aspirations of their customers. Learn more at www.fuseinsight.com


"The single most significant strategic strength that an organization can have is not a good strategic plan, but a commitment to strategic listening on the part of every member of the organization." -- Tom Peters



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