Death of Google Wave – Another Innovation Infanticide

So Google Wave is dead. Google killed it. It wasn’t as unlucky as Larrabee. It did see some light of the day. But it lost life in it’s infancy. When Wave was launched about a year ago, it received mixed reviews. It roused fear, suspicion, awe and a subtle sense of mystery. Google called it, “a new web application for real-time communication and collaboration”. Soon there were mixed reactions from different users. On one hand there were users who hailed it as a tool that would substantially hurt emails, hurt Facebook and wipe Twitter off the face of this planet. Well, nothing of these happened. Several experts and geeks slammed Wave for its apparent complexity and slowness. Martin Seilbert on TechCrunch wrote “Google Wave sucks….” mainly because of its complexity, instability and slow speed. However there were hopes that as people will start using it they will get accustomed to the tool and gradually Google Wave will be accepted. Experts also hoped that at least its collaboration feature will help it survive and win users.

However, Wave optimists, who were an obvious minority, finally accepted defeat with Google itself announcing suspension of Wave. The main reason for its suspension according to Google has been lack of user acceptance. This entire episode leaves us with two questions. One, why Wave didn’t succeed, given the user-base that Google enjoys? Two, Is Google hurrying in pulling the plug? Is it a right strategy to altogether abandon the innovation for lack of acceptance? Karim Lakhani of HBS has hailed Google’s decision saying that, “…….admitting failure and moving on is another key lesson in managing innovation.” He further adds, ” The ability to (quickly) shut down failing projects and reallocate intellectual and financial resources to other more promising endeavors is critical to innovation success as it releases individuals and budgets to take on the next big challenge.

We don’t know what are the internal investment criteria at Google.  But the signal that this decision gives is that Google is both ambitious and ruthless with itself at the same time. On one hand, it doesn’t hesitate in launching highly ambitious tools like Wave and on the other doesn’t hesitate in abandoning it if it doesn’t perform well enough. The only mystery here is, what is that ‘performance criteria’ in a tool as radically innovative as Wave. Or, is it simply the performance of Wave, or is it a change in the product portfolio strategy? Shall we soon see features of Wave being integrated into other Google products? Well, only time will tell. As of now, as Google Wave and the Users’ manual to Google Wave both, are history. But as the author of its Users’ manual, Gina Trapani said, we can also say, “…I respect any product that shoots as high as Wave did, even if it misses in the market.”

For some academic work on a similar question, have a look at Agarwal, Rajshree; Bayus, Berry & Tripsas, Mary. 2005. ‘Abandoning Innovation in an Emerging Industry. ‘ Working Paper and also the paper that I am citing below.

Sanjay Jain, & Kamalini Ramdas (2005). Up or out—or stay put? Product positioning in an evolving technology environment Production and Operations Management, 14 (3), 362-376 : 10.1111/j.1937-5956.2005.tb00030.x


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