Innovation failure? – Google’s Wave crashes

Posted by pwitman - August 9, 2010 - jurvetson - jurvetson

You (most likely) never heard of Google Wave, or never tried it out.  And now you likely never will, at least by that name. It’s been out on the market for about a year, open by invitation only, much like GMail originally was. I wangled an invitation from a student so I could try it, but it’s not one of those things you can really try by yourself. It’s a collaboration tool, so it required someone to collaborate with, and, to be meaningful, something to collaborate on. I had lots of collaboration to do, but after playing a bit with it, I concluded that the learning curve was too steep, so chose not to burden anyone else with that.

Google announced recently that Wave development would not get further funding, but that code for some of its fundamental capabilities had already been released as open source. Bloggers at TechHaze note that Wave’s demise is likely due to lack of anyone to collaborate with – in other words, a lack of critical mass. It’s a product that clearly could have thrived from the Network Effect (link here TBD), but Google never achieved enough mass to get that growth to happen on its own.

So why did GMail become a raging success, but Wave failed? I think the surface cause was threefold: the lack of critical mass of users, the need to learn to do something new in order to use it, and the fact that it didn’t work with anything else – no interoperability.

That lack of critical mass was in turn caused by the invite-only model, and the fact that even relatively early adopters like me gave up on it (see reasons above), and never invited anyone. Turns out there was a great video available to help jump-start users, but it was an hour long. I think I started to watch it, but decided if I had to devote an hour to a video, it wasn’t likely to be worth my time until someone else tried it first.

GMail, in contrast, was immediately usable (and intuitive, for the most part) to anyone who already had an e-mail account. And, it could immediately send messages to anyone else using e-mail. Users didn’t have to get their friends to sign up for GMail before they could exchange messages.

It’s too bad it ended this way. Google certainly has the resources to make tools like this come to life, and those who’ve tried it say it was great. TechHaze says, and I modified it slightly, “there are two kinds of people: those who love Wave, and those who haven’t tried it” (or never heard of it).

Did you try Wave? For what purpose? What did you think? I’d love to hear from you.

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