There are no silver or “magic” bullets for organizations. Google Wave was a single technology bullet. The introduction of Wave had no organizational practice wrapped around it and little indicating consideration of how people would perceive it. Organizations are complex systems and betting success on any single dimension is unlikely to work. There was no implementation. There were limited use cases. Even access was limited until recently, meaning you couldn’t drag others along with you in your experimentation. (Wikipedia version of the history here.) As I understand Google’s approach with Wave, it was to give Wave to the world as a platform. Developers were expected build tools around Wave that normal people would use (perhaps as email platforms are built around Intenet email protocols). I bought into that approach and followed the Google Wave Interest Group so I’d be ready when the developers got it all together. I tried to get some other generally early adopters to try it out, to no avail, and many others were similarly frustrated. Conferences were where of I heard the most success as the real-time/rich communication aspects were highlighted in that focused environment. According to a Google announcement, Google will stop their own development of Wave and may shut down the site after the end of the year. Open source access to some of the capabilities will remain and aspects may be included in other Google products. Jeffrey Mann, writing for Gartner, points out that developers and users may be less likely to spend effort on Google products given the apparent lack of long-haul commitment. Wave was only fully open to the public as of May 2010 and the cited reason for shutting it down is low user adoption. The folks at Google are smart. They’ve done (and do) amazing things. But they do seem to have technology bias that may be getting in their way. In Kathryn Schulz' recent interview with Google Research Director Peter Norvig we get some clues: From a story about the founding of Google:
One of the venture capitalists came to [company founders] Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin] and said "OK, the first thing you have to decide is, is this company going to be run by sales or by marketing? They said, "We think we'll take engineering." He laughed and said, "Oh, you naive college kids, that's not the way the real world works." And they said, "Well, we want to try it." Ten years later, that experiment is still running; engineering is still the center of the company. And it seems like it's worked.
I’ll argue that this single-minded approach sometimes works because some of Google’s products are so good, or fit into existing systems so well, that they can get away without implementation. But I think Wave (and perhaps Google’s other visible failures) indicate that they could do better by stepping away from the myth of the silver bullet. Om Malik says, “I’m not sure Google is capable of understanding people on that level, and that’s the reason why the company strikes out whenever it tries.” For added success, Google needs to understand people and the organizational systems we all live in. Google seems to need more systems savvy. Systems savvy management is the opposite of a silver bullet approach. Like the woven fibers of a bullet-proof vest, systems savvy management intertwines technology tools, organizational practices, and people for flexible strength. What did I want from Wave? I liked the idea of a persistent activity stream that could handle multiple file types. I saw it as a way of consolidating project documents with their history and discussion. We have this to a degree with products likeSocialtext, and given Socialtext's careful consideration of the broader issues, I expect they’ll be tracking the Wave experience.