By Jim McCarthy Aug 5, 2010 7 comments

Wave Goodbye to A “Magical” Product

For the handful of non-geeks out there who care (or even know) about Google Wave, yesterday the company announced that it’s all over.  The future of communication has been canceled.

Here’s my own Wave experience.  I saw the video in the long form.  I got pretty excited about the potential.  I even wangled myself an invitation to get the product early on (though I didn’t pay for it, the way some did.)  And then…nothing.  Why?  Because no one else was on Wave.  Having  a Wave account was like having the only telephone in the world.  Sure, it’s got cool features, but unless a lot of other people are using it, it’s pretty much worthless.

All network-based products have this issue, but Wave had a second one.  It was complicated.  Ok, probably too complicated, but the potential was intriguing enough that I thought I might use it for certain situations, but I never got the chance because nobody I knew was on Wave except the guy who invited me.  At least, as far as I knew, nobody was on Wave.  And since Google took days/weeks to send out ‘invitations,’ you never knew which of the people you’d invited had accepted.  So with a steep learning curve to climb and absolutely nobody to climb it with, well, I forgot it was there until yesterday, when we found out it was closing down.

But this isn’t just about Wave.  I have a message to Google and Apple.  To paraphrase Eight Ball from Full Metal Jacket, I know you’re bad and all, but you need to stop calling your products “magical.”

They’re not magical.

When an 8 year old goes to Disneyland and thinks it’s magical, that’s one thing.  To an eight year old, seeing Mickey Mouse in person IS magical,. but when your target market is grown-ups who understand perfectly well how software works, the word you’re looking for is not “magical.”  “Awesome,” perhaps.  “Cool,” I’ll give you.  “Wicked good,” in Massachusetts, sure.

But not magical.  It’s making you sound arrogant.  If the customer says something is magical, fair enough.  When you say it, it has a funny and not altogether positive ring to it.  People sit still when you say it because, currently, you’re in the zone, but you won’t always be in the zone.  In fact, if history is any guide, zones like the ones Google and Apple are in right now almost never last too long.  That’s ok, though.  You’ll still be great companies when it’s over, but when it’s over, you don’t want people to be predisposed to thinking you’re jerks.  Ask Microsoft.  They were in a zone a few years back, as you may recall.

For every marketer in the world, here’s the lesson: be confident and proud about what you’re doing, but no matter how “bad and all” you get, a dash of humility is very becoming.

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    • Aaron

      I’m sad to see Google Wave go, because I found that once I’d participated in a “wave,” I really saw a lot of potential for a lot of organizations now. It is great for geographically decentralized groups, all working from homes or anywhere, overly reliant on email threads that become a non-navigable swamp. So the theater company of which I’m on the Board is using it to track several discussions on key decisions. It is so much easier than email, once people learn how to use it.

      But you’re right. It wasn’t easy to figure out how to get started. It’s a platform for groups, and if you haven’t got users, you haven’t got groups and you haven’t got a successful platform. Contrast that to Facebook or any kind of email client or Twitter, which are all really easy to start, and pretty intuitive.

      I think their big mistake was to limit and trickle out the invites at the beginning. That prevented people from getting their friends on to try it. I’m sure they were concerned about not knowing how loads would affect the product, but I find it hard to believe that Google’s R&D people couldn’t have found a way to stress test it.

    • Jim McCarthy

      I completely agree with you, Aaron. I really wanted to be able to use it but with no one else there, it was impossible.

      I was just thinking…they probably thought that since the strategy worked for gmail, it would work for this, but gmail always interacted with other email clients, so it’s different.

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