Lessons on Google Wave

When Google Wave was launched, I was pretty excited - the massive tech giant was venturing into social collaboration tools, it was bound to be great! But, I remember signing in for the first time, and thinking, “This looks cool, oooh, nice features ... but, what exactly am I going to do with it”? I barely used it for more than a few moments.

A year later and Google has pulled Wave. There are a couple of interesting things to take from that.

Firstly, it’s truly remarkable that a company can invest in a product, take it so far, and then pull it completely. It’s always easier to believe the product will work, it will gain traction, and it will be a success, especially when it’s gone through development and out to market. Truth is, most software is not a success, but owning up to that and moving on, is really hard.

Google has the kind of culture where lessons learned are exactly that - and you take those into the next thing you do, and make it better. So many times I’ve seen ‘lessons learned’ as an exercise, but not really a true way of working. Google’s state of mind is impressive, but they’ve had an advantage, they’re only a decade old - deep seated bureaucracy and dead wood don’t flood the company ecosystem. I have no doubt Google will come back with something that really sticks next time (or they’ll buy Twitter...).

The second interesting point I took from this is that social collaboration is hard. The reason Wave failed is down to user adoption. Not enough people got involved and brought it to life. In the end it was a wonderful tech solution, with no groundswell of users to make it succeed. And this is in the public domain, where users are ever ready to spend time on social sites. In the enterprise, it’s even harder; users don’t have the time to hang around on collaborative sites pinging each other - or frankly, the desire to do so within the corporate walls.

The key is purpose. Bring the people for a reason, and they will come. I find it curious that large organizations are pumping investment into tools that replicate the social collaboration ethos - but don’t think about the reason why people should even be there, what’s the end goal? Why would a 25-year-old gen X’er want to hang about on a corporate social site, when they have all their friends on Facebook and Twitter?

But imagine if you had a culture of sharing and collaborating, and a tool that helped facilitate highly focused, targeted business initiatives, and with the same feel as a social site? That has some real merit. If the users can demonstrate their value as employees through this system, they have a purpose,  and they want to be included and recognized. If users only have a place to hang out, send messages, add colleagues to their network, blog a little - then it will suffer a slow death. The motivations are crucially different, and understanding those motivations is key to success in collaborative technology.

I might be wrong on this, but I’d be interested to know what social tools are succeeding on mass scale in the enterprise.

Wave is a fascinating case

Wave is a fascinating case study in adoption/non-adoption. I'm wondering did it come too late to be embraced through user adoption and customer word-of-mouth/viral marketing?

Alternatively - there are so many apps out there today and perhaps cool new ones that serve a purpose do enough that for something new to emerge is tough in such a crowded space? Especially when its purpose isn't quite there.

Have we seen the last in revolutionary new on-line tools? Or is it just that its all about adoption and therefore harnessing those marketing dollars? So if the users can't figure it out we wont - so lets pull the plug. Does it always have to be about quantity? If it is perhaps we need to look for a new blue ocean?

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