So, yeah, Google put the kibosh on Wave this week and now we must endure the inevitable tsunami (Ha! A “wave” joke) of post-mortems from the tech press. See, there’s an unwritten rule in the punditsphere that says that the volume of babble produced when a product fails is directly proportional to the amount of hype from the tech press when the product was announced.
And, good lords, was Wave hyped. It seems that every pundit, reporter and New Media Douchebag couldn’t wait to tell us mortals how Wave was going to change the very face of communication itself. I remember the glorious day when I finally received my Wave invite. I tremulously clicked the link, looked at Wave’s revolutionary new interface and exclaimed, “eh, whatever.”
See, the problem with Wave, a problem that is endemic to Google products is that it was conceived, designed and implemented by and for Google engineers. Sometimes that works for Google; the best example of that is probably Gmail. Other times that tactic fails spectacularly as it did with Wave.
The other issue plaguing Wave is that Google never developed a narrative for it. At no point was it ever clear to me what problem Wave was going to solve for me. Contrast that with Apple’s new FaceTime feature in the iPhone 4. During the run-up to the announcement of the iPhone 4, and even after Steve announced FaceTime I was dismissive of the concept of cell phone based video chat, until I saw the new iPhone 4 television advertisements featuring FaceTime.
Unlike Google, Apple excels at creating a narrative for their products. Thus we have commercials that portray simple, compelling narratives about FaceTime that tell us fuck-all about the technology involved, but about the people using it. In the sage words of Don Draper, it’s not a wheel, it’s a carousel.
None of the above is meant to disparage Google, by the way. Different companies have different strengths, and to expect every company to excel in exactly the same way is just another form of Highlanderism. The tech press and punditocracy needs to realize, though, that Google is a company by and for engineers. As long as that is the case, popular misfires like Wave will always happen.