Google’s struggles

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.

6 thoughts on “Google’s struggles”

  1. The “now what” is clearly Wave’s problem but the network effects – not so much because Google has a reasonable network. And to compare it or even consider it being a challenger to Facebook clearly show that either Google failed to communicate Wave’s purpose and value proposition or general lack of understanding.

    Now what do I do with this thing? is the real question. Yes, its cool, innovative, and does stuff but what is it for?

    To write documents I have GDocs and while email is not as advanced and collaborative as Wave thus far its done the job and people are use to it as the De facto standard (Beta VS VHS).

    The real issues from my perspective:
    + another tool to train people and adopt (only innovators and early adopters would get on board 2.5%)
    + it wasn’t included (and definitely not integrated) in Domains/Apps until a couple of months ago (key target market for adoption) – this was a very big mistake on many levels. Even with the poor and recent inclusion, searching for Waves is not possible from GDocs.
    + general concerns around uncertainty and the reliability of Wave to increase workplace productivity due to learning curves
    + issues running it behind corporate firewalls
    + Illusion-to-Robust Resilience as found in Kapoor’s (2010) framework for technology substitution.

    In summary Wave failed due to poor market execution. Note, many of Google’s products and services are not new, instead they are innovations. Take the examples you refer to “Search, Adwords, AdSense, Gmail, …”. Google didn’t create them, they just enhanced them. Wave, I argue is more than an innovation – it’s on the edge of a new offering.
    In it’s temporary form as a stand-alone offering it failed. Let’s hope during the assumed integration phase Wave and Google don’t fail again.


  2. I’m disappointed as I was starting to use Wave. I saw it as a valid project management tool. A useful collaborative tool where you didn’t have to go out and get specialised software. I don’t see any purpose to Buzz or Knol when the alternatives all ready exist and have the market. The names are terrible for marketing purpose as well. I wouldn’t touch Buzz with a barge pole. Separate it from my gmail and I might but as long as it is integrated – no.


  3. It’s my impression that only the search variants have been real killers. Gmail has done OK, but hasn’t conquered the world (at least judging by my inbox). Docs likewise. I have to admit that I haven’t even heard of Domains or Reader.


  4. The failure of individual technologies isn’t really a problem for Google, though; they have something of the culture of a startup with regards to new ideas.  Real Developers Ship and Fail Quickly are the mantras – it’s a very different philosophy from the IBMs of an earlier age, where each product was researched, designed, and engineered over the course of years or decades.


  5. As an active knol author, I know knol from the day one it went public. For some time, we did not know what was happening, Slowly we came to know the news. After two years, we understand what is happening on knol by looking at knol counter that gives page views for knols on each article, from our Google Analytics data and our Adsense data.

    Page views for our knol portfolios have gone by 100% in the last year. It happened for many knol authors. Many knol authors are highly qualified academically and working in responsible positions in academic institutions and companies. Every day up to 1000 new knols are being published. Knol is a success story with some delay. Yes wave could not be easily understood by many. It includes me also. But knol is well understood by many authors and readers. It is thriving.


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