Yesterday, Google announced that it was stopping further development on Google Wave. Only about a year ago, Google Wave was announced to great fanfare and interest. For instance, one leading commentator wrote:
from what I have seen, it is impressive and has all the hallmarks of being something significant.
In particular, it looked like something that could challenge Facebook:
The key characteristic is that it is a tool and a potentially very flexible one. My view is that its closest analogue is Facebook. Facebook turned out to be a platform that allowed friends to interact. This is in contrast to Twitter that is a tool that allows for broadcast. What Facebook lacked was the ability to partition interactions between friends and those between co-workers, etc. Wave appears to naturally allow that. What is more, it will integrate with anything with an API. That means that it is backwards compatible with Facebook. Finally, it works much better. It is light years ahead of Facebook engineering wise and I suspect more scalable in its technology.
These things are true. But almost anyone who tried out Google Wave knew there was a problem when you got there and your first and probably last post was “Now what?”
Google’s struggles both with Wave and also with Buzz and Knol are that these are ventures with strong network effects and so that technology adoption is a great challenge. What is interesting is that adoption had been Google’s strength in the past. It has had several killer apps most notably Search, Adwords, AdSense, Gmail, Maps, Scholar, Reader, Docs and Domains. In each case, the rollout was low key and relied on word-of-mouth. I was first shown search by someone in the IT Department at MBS and they had me on my first use. The same was true of Gmail. With Reader, I tried out others before it was easy of use that won the day. Scholar has taken over academics in an unprecedented manner. For all these, it was combination of being easy to use and being blindingly useful that generated adoption. And what is more in none of these were the network effects strong; put simply, if others didn’t adopt it, it was still easy to use and very useful. Adoption by others has helped but was not critical. Moreover, in each case, it leveraged interconnection with existing platforms rather than something independent.
To launch an application with a strong network effect relies on tapping in to highly connected worlds. For Facebook, it was college students. For Twitter, it was celebrity following (this is a form of connectivity through a ‘star’ graph — the star being a source of many connections).
For Wave, Google tried to do this by having invites and referrals initially. This is a strategy for connected adoption but was not well matched with being useful. Put simply, those people were already connected and Wave didn’t offer something that was interconnected or of extra value — at least initially. So people tried it and left it behind and from then it was doomed. There are some who used it — the folks at ABC are lamenting its demise. But Google needed to have interconnectivity from the start and a strategy. Wave seemed to have promise as a one stop shop. Frankly had in interconnected well with Facebook and Twitter that might have been enough but when I tried it at least, that didn’t work.