Why did Google Wave fail?

{On 4th August 2010, Google officially declared Google Wave to be dead. Here's my take on why I believe Google wave failed?}


A simple no-nonsense answer to that question can be found on Page#194 of Clay Shirky’s book Cognitive Surplus:
“Projects that will work only if they grow large generally won’t grow large;

A veritable natural law in social media is that to get to a system that is large and good, it is far better to start with a system that is small and good and work on making it bigger than to start with a system that is large and mediocre and working on making it better.

Unlike other Google products such as Gmail, Reader, Maps, Scholar etc., Wave’s success really depended on a very large number of people using it. As Clay Shirky describes above, such a high reliance on network externality pretty much fixed Wave’s fate even before it was launched in May last year. Comparing Wave to Google Reader, it’s easy to see that the success of Reader didn’t depend on too many people using it. As long as enough blogs provided RSS feeds and Google reader had decent user interface, there was no way it could have failed. With a social tool like Wave, things are different!!

Another important factor for success of a social platform is the existence of a social object that would connect people in new ways. Google wave tried to connect people who were already connected, which was fine, as long as it could provide a new social object to sustain the new connections. Unfortunately, Wave didn’t bring any such object to the table. Jyri Engeström, the founder of Jaiku, approaches any social software design from an object-centered sociology perspective (excuse me for the jargon but that’s how Jyri, who’s credited with the idea of bringing social-object theory to social networks, describes it). According to this theory, a successful social platform clearly defines the users’ relationship with the platform’s social object and if a majority of users are not able to decode this relationship, the platform is likely to fail.

Template [ Social Platform : Users {relationship} Social Object ]

Following are some of the successful platforms that have compelling “user-social object” relationships:
LinkedIn : Users {exchange} professional information and opportunities
Flickr: Users {share} photos
YouTube: Users {share, broadcast} videos
Delicious: Users {save, share} bookmarks
Google wave fails the test miserably. [Google Wave: Users {share, collaborate on} everything??]

Maybe the idea behind Wave was to give users the option of deciding their own social objects - it’s like creating a social network which is the mother of all social networks – don’t use mySpace for music, YouTube for videos or Flickr for photos, just get on to Wave and build on whatever social object you like – big deal!! Well, if that was the plan, then I must say it was sort of much ahead of its time (how do you even explain that to people? EasierToUnderstandThanWave.com!!) but above all it was poorly executed.

We know Google sucks at social but failing a high profile product like Google wave, I think, will haunt Google’s social ambitions for a looong time. This reminds me of a subway style map of Google’s acquisitions - it was published on fastcompany a few months back – check out the red path – all of Google’s social acquisitions are on this path. You’ll see that Google has messed up almost all of these acquisitions; wether it’s Jaiku or Pyra Labs(orkut), they are all flops now. Too bad!!

Google may try to buy Foursquare and Twitter to remain in the social game. However, if Foursquare and Twitter suffer the fate of jaiku and orkut in the hands of Google, I think the investors at Google may issue a memo banning Google from making any future social adventures J

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