Why Google Wave failed

A little over a week ago, Google announced that they’re shutting down Wave, their innovative web-based product that allows users to chat, share files, annotate documents, and collaborate in real-time. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry, you’re not alone. It didn’t really catch on, just like a lot of Google’s social efforts (Buzz, Orkut, etc). I happened to be looking at some of my old comments on Hacker News and I ran across this one that I wrote when Wave was first announced, which I think does a decent job of predicting why Wave wouldn’t work:

I know everyone in the tech community is drooling over this, but I’d give it 50/50 odds at best. The real advantage it has going for it is that Google can throw a lot of weight behind it and maybe push it through with sheer force of will. Here’s the problem with Wave: what is it? Every blog post I’ve read about it struggled with how to explain it. I read this entire post and I’m still not sure of how I’m supposed to use this thing or what pressing problem it solves. Even the videos I’ve seen are super long, presumably because you can’t really show it off in 60 seconds. “Well, it’s kind of a mix between email and IM, but also with wiki functionality and social networking…oh, and it’s got these crazy widgets and media sharing and stuff. Hmmm…you really have to play with it to understand.” 97% of the people I know wouldn’t get that, and don’t have the patience to figure it out. It seems like it’s just too flexible, that it can be used for a million different things, which makes it hard to know how to use at first. Think about almost every successful web site out there and how easy they are to explain, especially when they first launched. You would have zero trouble explaining Google, Youtube, Facebook, Flickr, Delicious, Twitter, etc. in a 60 second video.

Wave is like FriendFeed on crack, and FF is already dangerously close to being too much for most normal people to grok. I just don’t see it catching on.

I’m not often great about predictions (I thought Twitter was doomed when I first heard about it), but it’s nice to occasionally get something right 🙂

My rule of thumb for consumer internet products is that I need to be able to explain it to my grandparents in 60 seconds, and it needs to be easy enough to use that I can figure it out while I’m drunk [1]. Anything else is going to probably be too complicated for normal (read: non-masochistic) people to hassle with figuring out.

1. Not that I ever have been, of course 🙂