Given the way that Google (who can often seem to do no wrong) has pulled the plug on their Wave product, I expect that there will be a flood of Wave-related blogs, editorials and posts – most with cute word-plays in the title. So I’ll get to the point and keep this one short.
I remember the first time I waved goodbye to Google Wave – about 2 days after getting my “invite” access to Google’s latest and greatest social tool. Why? Despite the fact that I was extremely impressed (from an analytical perspective) by the elegance and sophistication of Wave, there was a practical side of me that looked at Wave and simply had to wonder “who in the world is actually going to use this?” If Wave were a wine, you could describe it as “complex, with a hidden sophistication and an alluring bouquet”. Unfortunately, it would also be undrinkable.
As a result, I never expected Wave to amount to much – the design was too complex, the competition too stiff, the user interface somewhat non-intuitive, the integration with other Google tools almost non-existent and the marketing roll-out almost embarrassing. Rather, I viewed Wave as an experiment – an experiment that reveals quite a bit about Google and their internal mindset.
From a practical perspective, there are many products that Google offers that are extremely impressive, well-embraced by the user community and add significantly to the Google aura. G-Mail is a great example, as is Google Maps/Earth, Google News, Chrome, Docs, etc. Almost none of these, however, generate significant (if any) revenue for Google. In fact, the majority of their $6.77 billion in revenue for the quarter ended March 31, 2010 came from their core capability: Google Search and advertising-related sub-businesses – not from all the nifty gadgets and tools that give Google it’s extra edge. That’s an interesting stat for an IT company in an industry where the viability of almost every product is viewed in termed of its profitability. Loss-leaders are not the norm.
But Google is different, and has been from the beginning, such as their 20% free-time idea to help foster innovation within the firm – allowing their own employees to use 20% of their work-week to go wild with whatever crazy (or not so crazy) idea that floated through their extremely creative craniums. By anybody’s logic, this is the ultimate R&D experience of a lifetime, and a great example of why Google has no problem launching (or no problem with a lack of) “experiments” like Wave (which, by the way, is far from dead as they have now tossed it into the public domain and will very likely find a way to use some of the core development breakthroughs in both current and future products).
When Google launched Wave, I doubt they had any expectation of significant revenue generation, nor did they necessarily view it as core to their search/advertising/content business model. Rather, I believe it was a calculated experiment – one that clearly pushed the boundaries of real-time collaborative social networking, but was always considered just another cutting edge experiment. So don’t view Wave as a failed product, but rather view it as a successful experiment that yielded Google some very interesting, and valuable, data about user technology adoption, coding and development concepts, and the value/need for product co-operation in certain product areas.
Most importantly, I think that Google clearly recognizes the value of both advertising revenue and content that social sites can bring to the brand (Google Blog is a decent example). Social Media – true “social media” – is one of the few areas that can bring both (well beyond what Google Blog could ever generate). With Wave out of the way, don’t be surprised if they take the same step in advertising and content creation as they did with YouTube and video content, buy their way in. On the other hand, they could have another project in the pipeline to dominate the still nascent social media market, but I wouldn’t count on it.
For an interesting alternative/in-depth perspective, check out this ars technica article by Ryan Paul – a very good read.