Lessons from Google Wave failure

Summary:If you're going it alone you better have a business model. Or have something truly innovative. Even if you're ginormous.

If you're going it alone you better have a business model. Or have something truly innovative. Even if you're ginormous.

(This Google tribute to Leonardo DaVinci ran on its own home page early in the 2000s.)

There are a lot of lessons there for Google, which announced the failure of Google Wave on its blog yesterday. Despite the efforts of 6,000 developers and 100,000 users, it never came out of beta.

As Ina Fried and Josh Lowensohn recounted at CNET, Google has failed before. Dodgeball, Jaiku, Notebook, Lively, Hello and Answers are just some of the projects that it has shuttered after announcing them to the media.

But let's parse that first paragraph again:

  • Going It Alone -- An individual or small group going it alone is courageous. A behemoth going it alone is suspicious. Without allies, without external support, a Google project run by Google alone is in trouble.
  • Business Model -- Google has a tendency of going with cool stuff first and worrying about how the money will come back later. That's how it bought Blogger and YouTube. That leads to trouble.
  • Truly Innovative -- Wave sounded innovative, but it really just combined a lot of services that already existed. Was it a service or a user interface -- I was never certain.
  • Ginormous -- Google is huge, humongous, enormous, the 800-pound gorilla. It bought fiber when it was dirt cheap, it innovated on server farms, it focused like a laser on electricity costs, it became the low-cost producer of all Internet services. But that also put a target on its back.

Contrast the failures with successes like Google Code and Google Android. Both have lots of friends. Both have real hardware business models. In both cases Google followed the wave, rather than trying to create it. That's what big companies do.

You can argue that in all this Google is just a tech venture capitalist, that the success of Android excuses the failure of Wave and the others. You can also argue that Google has learned to make lemonade from its lemons, like Blogger and YouTube, so why should it change?

I say it's because Google has a target on its back. When a kitten falls it's cute. When an elephant falls a lot of things get trampled, and their friends don't like it.

I'm not calling for wholesale changes here. But before announcing any project to the world the company needs to know it's putting its global reputation on the line. Such announcements are news, a big Biden deal.

Until you know what a project is about, or until you really need to tell people, keep it to yourself. It's less embarrassing.

Topics: Google, CXO

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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