Gina Trapani, probably the greatest cheerleader for Google Wave’s success, today starts off a post about Wave, titled Frequently Asked Questions about Google Wave, with this very insightful sentence:
“Even folks usually bullish about new technology still don’t understand what they can use Wave for, how to sell it to their friends and co-workers so they have someone to use it with, and how to fit it into their workday.”
And that’s why Google Wave is, and will continue to be, a flop.
Google made several key mistakes with Google Wave:
- Google overhyped Wave—You should never project your project as something that will replace something as standard and universal as email. If it happens to unseat a champion in the space, then you look like a genius and it’s a great success, but if you start out of the gates saying it will replace email, you’re doomed. It’s like an ice company coming out with a new shape of ice cube and saying that it will replace water. It sounds ridiculous, because it is ridiculous. It would have been what Twitter would have faced if they had pitched themselves as a blogging / SMS replacement. They didn’t do either, and they’re marginally succeeding at both.
- Google released a product that depends upon everyone you work with using it in a closed, invite only beta—You cannot keep a walled-garden around a fundamentally social tool and expect it to grow and prosper. Collaborative information apps fail if you cannot collaborate with whoever you want to (this is why email continues to thrive and it’s also part of the key to Twitter’s success; Twitter is public so you can say @ whoever you like whenever you like).
- Google duplicated functionality from their other products without providing a path to integrate those other products—I’ve heard that Google Wave is like chat, email, and documents all rolled into one very useful tool that integrates all these things into one nice flow of live collaborative information. The only problem? There’s no actual integration with my email or my documents. There is a slight integration with the people I chat with thanks to the use of Google Contacts as the basis for connecting with other Google Wave users, but again see the previous item. Most of my contacts don’t have Google Wave.
- Google built something focused on features rather than focused on usability and how people currently use the web—There is a steep learning curve for Wave. Even for very geeky, technologically savvy people, it’s not a familiar medium to be working with. It doesn’t have the familiarity with an old format (as email mimicked real-world paper memos) that will help ease people’s understanding or learning of it. And as soon as it becomes more complicated to use than the less-feature-rich alternatives (like email), people will give up and stop using it.