No Context? No Collaboration. Goodbye, Google Wave
The use cases we’ve seen show the power of this technology: sharing images and other media in real time; improving spell-checking by understanding not just an individual word, but also the context of each word; and enabling third-party developers to build new tools like consumer gadgets for travel, or robots to check code.
But despite these wins, and numerous loyal fans, Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked. We don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product, but we will maintain the site at least through the end of the year and extend the technology for use in other Google projects.
One one hand, its startling when a behemoth such as Google cannot use its deep tentacles in the developer and user community to shepherd a product to critical mass. That’s a lesson for many others that think they can win just on sheer scale and marketing wallet. It doesn’t matter if you are a Cisco or Microsoft – today’s end user in the enterprise has more ability to vote with their clicks than they ever did.
Mike Arrington at TechCrunch suspects: “Maybe it was just ahead of its time. Or maybe there were just too many features to ever allow it to be defined properly.” That’s definitely part of it – I personally felt there was way too much happening in Wave to encourage a wholesale leap off of the email cliff.
But there’s a more important issue at play here. My sense is that the primary culprit here is lack of context. No matter how sexy, the use case for silo’ed,
dumb “un-smart” collaboration still generally goes like this:
- Think up/get notified of a process problem or event
- Remember that a bunch of tools and metaphors (email, phone, the conf room or water cooler, software) exists that can help decision facilitation and brainstorming
- Group/find the right people to collaborate
- Pick a collaboration metaphor that works for everyone
- Solve the problem
- Go back to the system of record or powers that be (a boss, a customer, a supplier etc), to deliver the outcomes.
That’s a lot of steps and frankly a lot to expect from the average business user. If you want to hear more voices on this, the comments on Lifehacker are especially enlightening. And there’s parallels to be drawn from the consumer world as well: Think about the scores of of tools and nifty web apps introduced by Robert Scoble. We rush to try them, fall in love instantly, and then proceed to forget about them, pronto. Why? Because most of them require stepping out of our daily routines or are predicated on pre built, evergreen network effects to see value.
This is a conversation I’ve had with more vendors and customers than I care to remember but its working and many of them are understanding the value of associating collaboration with performance drivers (more in a subsequent post). Organizations still need to understand how to design work processes that blend optimal process and collaboration but its a hell of a lot easier when the software choose to plays nice.
On the other hand, far too many product teams continue to pile on whiz-bang collaboration features when end users are still struggling to understand the basic applicability of these new tools to meeting their performance requirements in a better/faster/simpler way. Organizations on the other hand often have a huge gap between declaring big picture strategic collaborative intent and tool selection. It’s in that gap where the “why” and “how” gets figured out and where the magic truly happens. Putting the onus on the user to decipher when to use enterprise 2.0 or collaboration will almost never lead to business results.
You have to give Google credit for trying and failing fast though. I had high hopes. The good news is that Google promises to inject some of Waves core technology into its other products. That hopefully will provide the necessary context that will celebrate some of the most amazing innovation that the core Wave team developed.
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SVP, Enterprise Social and Collaborative Software, SAP