Enterprise Collaboration: 5 Lessons Learned from Google Wave's Failure

5 minute read
Chelsi Nakano avatar

If Google Wave is anything, it's solid proof that even a multi-faceted communication platform full of useful features can fall flat. With that in mind, here are a few pointers to keep close when considering collaboration tools: 

Identify Problems, Don't Create Them

If being super nifty were a viable focal point for enterprise tools, Wave would most certainly have taken the cake. But in the world of business, usefulness takes precedence over glitz and glam. Sure, the thought of the second coming of e-mail mashed together with chat and multimedia sharing capabilities was exciting in theory, but it became very clear in practice that the combination didn't answer a pressing need.

In fact, many users felt that utilizing Wave created problems -- it was slow, buggy, too feature-heavy, confusing, and packed so tightly with hoighty-toighty temperament that it even left some companies convinced they were behind the collaboration curve. The resulting scramble to build and utilize solutions that integrated Wave's multitude of features was impressive, especially considering the newfound effort to solve issues that didn't exist. 

When considering a new collaboration solution, the first step is easy: Make sure there's an actual problem. 

Determine the Audience 

Collaboration tools should be created with an audience in mind. Wave wasn't positioned as specific to anyone, and that became very clear when both businesses and consumers hit respective walls.

For the latter, it was simply too complicated. The UI was too large, the features too numerous, and the learning curve too high. And let's not forget how the "coolest" capabilities turned out to be useless and, in the end, a little creepy. Wrote Farhad Manjoo of Slate:

Chatting on Wave is like talking to an overcurious mind reader. On a conventional IM, you only see what other people say once they hit Enter. (True, the IM program will tell your partner whether or not you’re typing, but this is too little information to get embarrassed about.) On Wave, every misspelling, half-formed sentence, and ill-advised stab at sarcasm is transmitted instantly to the other person. This behavior is so corrosive to normal conversation that you’d think it was some kind of bug. 

The users who managed to actually master Wave for business purposes found that its use was limited to workgroup collaborations. That alone subtracted a lot of what made Wave interesting in the first place, hence it made more sense for organizations to stick with the collaborative tools they were already using.

Further, while Wave's openness was appealing on a consumer level, it gave cause for concern in the workplace. Ric Opal, vice president of Peters & Associates, put it like this: “...it's not clear how Google Wave development will take into account things such as security, user directory and business policy regulation, all of which pose massive challenges…”

The consumerization of the enterprise is certainly a more popular topic than it was when Wave was first announced in 2009, but we still have to pick teams before we play. That said, choose a collaboration tool whose DNA specifically targets the problems you've determined need solving, not because it's a Swiss Army Knife. 

Baby, Take Off Your Cool 

The hype surrounding Wave manhandled the blogosphere, was a trending topic on Twitter, and filled forums to the brim. Basically, the media convinced people they needed Wave before anyone even got a chance to test run it. When the platform didn't deliver the magic fairy dust and unicorns it promised, the resulting cloud of digital disappointment was almost tangible. 

When selecting a collaboration tool, don't be distracted by the razzle dazzzle or the buildup -- let its usefulness show in an actual trial context. 

Learning Opportunities

Consider the (Less Complicated) Competition

Wave very quickly devolved from the next "it" tool to a really fancy chat platform, which would have been okay if anyone actually wanted a really fancy chat platform. 

If the boom of collaboration tools has taught us anything, it's that simpler is better. Sure, Wave cooked up a combo of popular technologies under one roof, but got way too generous with the seasoning for enterprise users. For example: Sudoku, maps and polls. 

In comparison, tools such as Salesforce.com's Chatter, Yammer and Novell's Pulse looked less intimidating and got the same job done.

If there's a product that does what you need done in less steps that the one you're considering, perhaps you should reexamine your situation. 

Don't Take on Too Much Too Fast

Aside from the real-time text entry thing, the features Wave offered were really great and continue to live on -- separately -- within other sections of the Google kingdom. Further, platforms like Chatter and Yammer have since added similar functionalities, but they've done so slowly over time.

This suggests that the reinvention of communications isn't unwanted, it just has to happen in baby steps. And so it seems the old words of ZDNet's Dion Hinchcliffe still ring true:

The reality is that broader social and cloud computing trends continue to evolve faster than most enterprises are able to absorb. It may be years before many organizations are comfortable with and ready to adopt either of these technologies strategically despite apparent benefits.

Have you got some additional pointers for our audience? Let us know in the comments below.