When Google Wave was first announced, it reminded me of the iPhone debut: Dubbed the “Jesus Phone”, it was the be all, end all device that would revolutionize the way we look at phones. And somehow, despite some problems, Apple’s been able to ride that hype perfectly, and in many ways the iPhone actually did revolutionize the industry. Bully for Apple, but can Google duplicate their success?
The company has had its share of quiet duds, and from my talks with analysts, developers and some early end users, Wave could become another one of them if not handled right.
1. The killer app question Telecom analyst, ITKE blogger and Wave developer Tom Nolle has been bullish on Wave’s potential since the beginning, but is worried that its true potential is in enabling new technologies, not in improving old applications. If these “improved old applications” take the spotlight, Wave could be lose out: Sure, an improved commenting system, as Mashable suggests, would be nice, but the infrastructure and complexity that Wave brings to the table make it a bit overkill for marginal improvements that could be done another way.
Instead, Nolle told me today he expected Google’s next major announcement to be touting an orthogonal application to current uses, throwing out the idea of a next generation message board, wiki or meeting place in favor of something that just isn’t doable today — without Wave.
2. A business model Kicking dirt in the eyes of Microsoft, Cisco and other tech giants is all well and good, but why try and kill Microsoft Office, WebEx and a host of other enterprise applications if you can’t turn a dime on it? Besides, even if they didn’t produce Wave, Google Apps already have the collaborative advantage.
Nolle said Google is walking a fine line between staying open and letting Wave be so easy anyone can do it. That could point to trying to grab future revenues by being the primary, if not only, Wave host. Amazon’s found great success in the unexpected cloud services realm, and Google App Engine‘s made clear that’s an area Google wants to get into.
3. Rolling out to the right people For whatever reason, I’ve been lucky when it comes to Google roll-outs: I received invites early on for both GMail and Google Voice (formerly Grand Central). But I’ve never seen the hype build like it has around Wave invites. Google’s been very choosy about who gets invites: Currently, it’s mostly developers who have received the invites.
There’s a good reason for that.
An analyst friend of mine, with a less technical background, recently got an invite. He was pretty optimistic about Wave’s potential, but admitted that, as of now, his team had been able to do very little with the offering. There just wasn’t much there for the average end user yet, and if early users are turned off by being prompted by a blank canvas, it won’t matter how great that canvas really is because the word of mouth will be negative.