There are a few reasons why Google Wave failed:
Too Much too soon
There’s no doubt that the technology of Google Wave is excellent but the actual implementation that they provided to the public was about the most convoluted awkward interface that you could possibly invent.
I suspect that they couldn’t really think of a good way of demonstrating this technology in a way which would engage with users but not seem like it’s just a copy-cat.
The thing is that there was a real opportunity if only they’d grasped it by doing something as simple as Twitter.
Google tried to demonstrate their engineering prowess but the difficulty is that only geeks are drawn to that. It’s not geeks who have made Facebook the 3rd biggest country in the world… it’s not geeks who have made Twitter so popular, it’s “ordinary” people.
Too little too late
The “invite” model for Gmail worked because you didn’t have to be on Gmail to interact with people who were. In the case of Wave, that same model was fundamentally flawed. If you want a social network to catch on you have to either open it up completely so that I, and my entire network can jump ship onto it or you integrate it with the incumbents so that I’m not missing out by switching to your platform.
I think there was a real opportunity here. There was a certain “jadedness” at the time with the current incumbents which Google could really have capitalised on but they failed to do so by taking the “toe in the water” approach. This was a land-grab. You don’t scrimp on a land grab. You spend spend spend for the promise of future riches. They should have opened the floodgates wide and just bought their way out of the subsequent problems the influx would have caused.
As I’ve said, if only they’d essentially copied Twitter (oh.. too late to the party Buzz!) they might have had a real chance to grab a chunk of social real-estate. Instead they tried to showcase every minute capability of the platform with “bots” and fabulous taxonomies and search capabilities all integrated together into a glorious engineering Golden Calf.
All of these things are great but they end up confusing everyone (I’ve been a computer geek since the dawn of time and even I was confused as hell!)
Come on Google this wasn’t hard to do: Take out more of the cool integrated features. Swallow your pride and just copy your competition (but do it better) which is you’ve already made a global business out of…
A simple Twitter alike (two-way integrating Twitter and Facebook so that it’s not alone in the wilderness ala Buzz…) would have paved the way for all the bells and whistles to be added and integrated as you went along.
Not integrated enough
Holy mother of all that’s holy. Google: You operate two of the most popular internet tools on the planet (Search and GMail) and you don’t leverage them by integrating Wave into them? Cmon… a 12 year old could have worked that one out.
Wave, integrated into email (instead of standing up to “replace” it. – Email aint that broke that it need replacing.. it just needs fixing…) would have been an instant hit. Turn my “postcard” based asynchronous conversations into “anytime” (sync or async) conversations… awesome.
Likewise with Search… You control pretty much the entire internet via Google search which is the default entry point for most people to get onto the web. Why not have integrated Wave to begin to provide some semantics into search results? Talk about a showcase of real value…
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see these things. They’re self evident.
The most common criticism I have heard of Wave (apart from it’s alone-in-the-wilderness approach) was that it was “kinda IM, kinda twitter, kinda other stuff” but not as good as any of them.
If you’re going to introduce an “email killer” then it needs to be a pretty innovative solution. The Wave preview wasn’t.
It’s pretty damning when a far more innovative demonstration of your technology is produced by what amounts to a Financial Software company (SAP).
Don’t re-invent the wheel
And on the other side of the coin, there’s no point in reinventing the wheel when it’s perfectly capable of achieving it’s objectives.
Wave was touted as a mail-killer. Does mail need killing? Is it somehow not fit for purpose?
Likewise, while Wave was not totally dissimilar to other systems such as Twitter or Facebook’s status updates, Google tried to introduce a new vocabulary to accompany it.
There was nothing wrong with the old vocabulary!
If you had an equivalent to a twitter Tweet, then call it a Tweet, or at least allude to the similarity so that people can draw your vocabulary into their frame of reference instead of going out of your way to make it clear that “we’re not copying anyone because we’re actually cleverer than all of them”.
I couldn’t honestly tell you the difference today between a Tweet, Mail, Blip or Wave… it’s all so…. confused…
So in essence, once again, it feels like Google have committed their usual sin of not being able to step outside themselves and look at the world from the point of view of their potential customers. I think it’s fundamentally because they still don’t “get” social.
They’ve disrupted excellently 3 times with tools which could be seen as “enterprise” or which you could argue everyone basically already understands and “gets” (search, mail, apps) but they seem to still have a mental block about “social”.
Wonder how long “Buzz!” will be around… If they don’t “get it” soon that’s another Dodo jumping up and down shouting “Extinct Me! Extinct Me!”… (Hint: 2 Way FB/Twitter integration might actually give it some legs. I’d personally kill for a decent social gateway/aggregator integrated with my mail…)