When Google Wave appeared in my Gmail I was thrilled. I got excited envisioning the paradigm shift to a new communication platform that would disrupt email. I must have been just like all the developers working on Wave in private alpha. So why did Google Wave fail and what can we learn? (Don’t actually expect me to have the definitive answers here.)
Wave was and is a technology in search of an application. Google tried to suggest applications to users with its YouTube videos and pre-built Wave templates, but adoption never followed. Which begs the question, who was Google building this for anyway? To me it seems pretty clear. Google didn’t have a customer in mind; it was building Wave for itself, Field of Dreams style. Don’t be fooled by Apple’s example, even when they design for themselves, they are designing with a customer in mind because they all use Macs, iPods, iPhones and iPad in their personal life too.
I’m not faulting Google for its experimentation. I praise it. But I also think this is the kind of result you can expect from free. Requiring your customers to pay even a small amount introduces some discipline and rigor and forces you to develop something that is truly value adding. You’ll know if it is not because, well, they won’t pay. This is central to the Customer Development process I learned from Steve Blank (disclaimer: learn <> master).
Doubtless Google learned a lot from this experience, and that’s what makes failures great. The code lives on, much of it open source, which is encouraging. Google developers may not have figured out just how to unlock the value in their really neat idea, but someone else still might. Innovation in the collaboration market is going to be frothy for months and years to come.