No Context? No Collaboration. Goodbye, Google Wave

The innovation zealot in me felt instant disappointment today upon reading that Google Wave is no longer. The official word from Google:

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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Esteban Kolsky
Esteban Kolsky

I am going to tell the people from Salesforce to buy reprints of your post -- you just made the case for Chatter (in the way they presented) much better than anyone has ever done.Integrating the tools into the workflow is critical, and that is the vission for Chatter. at least that was when introduced... will see where it goes in the next 2-3 releases as it becomes fully functional.nice post, and as always -- i fully agree 99%.

Ed Nadrotowicz
Ed Nadrotowicz

You've hit on something here that I've seen with numerous supposedly transformative technologies. If there is a large gap between where I am today and where the new technology is taking me, there needs to be a bridge between the two. This is what I'd call the missing context you call out. How do I migrate from where I am to the future state? It's certainly more difficult than flipping a switch. Two places I see this playing out today are in cloud computing and E20. The supporters of the new approach tell us all how much better things are using the new way of doing things. Some zealots go as far as to ridicule the current state and those that will not immediately migrate to the better way. (I vacillate between laughing and cringing when I hear these viewpoints.) The problem is that unless you're in a green field scenario, you likely have a lot invested in the current state. That investment includes not just technology but business processes that aren't exactly portable as they were built under the assumptions of the current state. There are also the people that work with the current state and the primacy under which they operate. How do I move from current state to future state in a manner that is not going to disrupt my business? This roadmap to the future must recognize not just the technology shift but the processes and the human interactions and expectations around those processes or as you succinctly put it - context. My belief is the concepts in Wave will live on as we inch closer to working the way Wave allows over time.

Jordan Frank
Jordan Frank

I feel Wave was/is vastly misunderstood. People were given the wave.google.com UI and were made to feel that the UI provided was Wave. In fact, Wave was/is/will be the set of protocols that make the UI work. The latter point (that the wave team made in their message today) was the real value and potential for Wave as a protocol rather than a Google service. I'm excited for the Wave tools and protocol to advance so we can incorporate them and create all kinds of new interactive user experiences in TeamPage.

Paul Sweeney
Paul Sweeney

I had hoped wave might become a protocol. How to parse interactions. I never expected the wave product to do anything as a product, it was as you point out, too ill defined, but i strongly suspected that it would play a role in "edge processes", a kind of pubsubhub if you will.

Rick Ladd
Rick Ladd

Thanks for this, Sameer. Google also said "The central parts of the code, as well as the protocols that have driven many of Wave’s innovations, like drag-and-drop and character-by-character live typing, are already available as open source, so customers and partners can continue the innovation we began."I think we can expect to see some of the more useful elements of Google Wave reincarnated elsewhere; perhaps in offerings that provide users with simple, understandable, and accessible capabilities more in line with the concept of "observable work".

Sameer
Sameer

Agreed. Salesforce.com Chatter has a real shot at making great things happen. I felt that instantly when I saw it the first time. I can’t speak for the execution (which as you know, goes far beyond Facebook like metaphor in the real world) but it’s going to take some work to position this for the average sales rep who is a unique animal ( as I pointed out here: http://ow.ly/2lErq based on working with easily over 400 direct and channel sales reps over the last 5-7 years ).Based on my work, there’s lots of approaches being played out to bring collaboration to sales and pre-sales engineers right now. Amongst other things, the trick is understanding the consumption/production ratios perfectly for sales use cases. Either way, you’re absolutely right – the reasons behind the demise of Wave should give collaboration vendors and their customers at least some food for thought.As usual, you're too kind :) And I’d have nowhere to go but down if you have me a 100%!

Sameer
Sameer

Hi EdTo your first point - I don't think I’ve seen a single engagement where we did not work on switching costs. Most LOB execs that were flush with cash in the dot com days eagerly bought (stupidly expensive) new tech to bring disparate worlds together (bowstreet for instance) and ignored switching costs - people, process and tech. This time around many are smarter about this and understand why we push for execution planning to be part of core strategy work. For starters, it serves a core feasibility indicator of the grand plan. That’s the gap were talking about here and where critical decisions and designs come to the surface.To your second point - that just sums up why I have always been drawn to your analysis of tech news (albeit in under 20 characters on twitter). :) It’s exactly what I see as the problem with a lot of the rah rah thinking that doesn't have an ounce of respect for what’s installed and why it was deemed critical. I really don’t have anything to add here - you could not have been any more eloquent. Finally, wrt Wave, as I said to Rick, the sum is worth far less than the parts in this case. Google’s death kneel w/ Wave was giving it a front end that hurt more than it helped with respect to evangelizing the power of these metaphors with mainstream users. I also expect to see wonderful stuff with components of this innovation, as long as developers have the discipline to apply the right practicality litmus test that Google failed to consider. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comments.

Sameer
Sameer

Agreed. Putting a UI on wave was perhaps the biggest mistake. The good news is that developers can still strip out parts and use as needed. I still fear that many will get caught up in the real time hype and far supersede the average users thresholds for 'how fast is fast'. Thanks for the comment, Jordan.

Sameer
Sameer

#googlewave may well do that, Paul. Now that the pressure to productize is off, let a 1000 flowers bloom. Thanks for the comment

Sameer
Sameer

I hope so Rick. Clearly a case where the parts are worth more than the sum. Thanks for the comment :)

Esteban Kolsky
Esteban Kolsky

And here is the 1% where we won't agree fully... I see your sales person as an unique animal and I raise you a sales person is dead, long live the "new" sales person.I don't see a future for the traditional, stereotypical B2B sales person that is still in the world today. will they go away in 2 years? nope. 5? unlikely. 10? possible 10-15+? yes. so, it is a long term thing, but the sales function has already changed (noticed how lead scoring and nurturing and over 1/3 of the sales funnel has move to marketing in many places?) and will continue to change. the traditional role of the gatekeeper that we used to give to the sales people as the owners of the access to information is disappearing as quickly as social customers are maturing.we won't see the sales people taking advantage of social today, and we will see the new sales people (merely the social relationship masters) using it tomorrow. cost of sales will decrease as more of it shifts to operational and automated functions, and sales people become relationship and social people more than anything.this is the long way to say that Wave and its cousins will fail if trying to serve the sales people (I agree with you there a little), but is bound for success if it focus instead in becoming a corporate platform for collaboration between workers and teams. not just a real-time alert management tool as itis today, but a true collaboration tool.for an example of what Wave should've been, look at Simplybox (disclosure: I advise them).Excellent discussion, thanks!

Jordan Frank
Jordan Frank

Chatter is one tool of a few that belong in an e2.0 ecosystem and is generally scoped to the sales organization (or those with login access to salesforce). With Chatter, I'd worry that (a) managers like salesforce but sales people don't. adding chatter doesn't change things all that much (b) chatter is separated from the rest of your e2.0 ecosystem, unless you mirror it across... but even in the mirror case you lose a lot of context with one foot in both ponds.

Jordan Frank
Jordan Frank

At risk of turning this post from Wave to salespeople... Sales people are some of the most social of all. I am part sales but come in from marketing and product management side, so I am not typical. But after spending a day at a sales training conference in May, I can confirm 100% that the the people there were 10x more social than the people at any other conference I've been to. Further, they are all on linkedin and very adept at social networking + why to do it. My issue w. chatter is not whether sales people are social enough to use it but rather whether its in the right context. Its in the CRM which is often a place sales people actually like to avoid vs. in a wider e2.0 pool of tools and content and people, where more contextual content and value may be.

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  1. [...] This post was Twitted by SameerPatel [...]

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  4. [...] said Sameer Patel, a well-respected Enterprise 2.0 consultant with the Sovos Group, who wrote a post yesterday about Google’s [...]

  5. [...] said Sameer Patel, a well-respected Enterprise 2.0 consultant with the Sovos Group, who wrote a post yesterday about Google’s [...]

  6. [...] said Sameer Patel, a well-respected Enterprise 2.0 consultant with the Sovos Group, who wrote a post yesterday about Google’s [...]

  7. [...] said Sameer Patel, a well-respected Enterprise 2.0 consultant with the Sovos Group, who wrote a post yesterday about Google’s [...]

  8. [...] west format. And I believe in sharp contrast to recent concentrated innovation efforts that were high profile failures. And beyond the few forward thinking organizations who can let innovation run loose but still reel [...]

  9. [...] enterprise context built in. To draw comparisons, it reminds me more of a purpose built GoogleWave (RIP) and StreamWorks from SAP than it does more mature activity stream offerings from Socialcast, [...]

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