Return of the Guru

Google Wave’s Flop Hints at Limits of Social Networking

Ara Trembly
Insurance Experts' Forum, August 5, 2010


The meteoric rise of social media as a communications and marketing tool was dealt a telling blow when Google recently announced it has stuck the proverbial fork into Google Wave, pronouncing it done once and for all.

Prior to its introduction about a year ago, Google Wave was hyped as the cutting edge of social networking and hailed as the future of online communication. According to, Google Wave let people exchange messages and media, and collaboratively edit documents.

“In the weeks leading up to its (private beta) launch, the product got a huge amount of hype,” the online source said. “But when people actually got their hands on Wave, they were mostly just baffled, and the product fell flat. Wave has actually only been available to the public for a little over a month now, but apparently that's all the time Google needed to judge this one a flop.”

Yet this kind of collaboration would seem to represent the nirvana state of the social networking paradigm: real-time communication and collaboration. In its official statement on the discontinuation of the product, Google notes: “The use cases we’ve seen show the power of this technology: sharing images and other media in real time; improving spell-checking by understanding not just an individual word, but also the context of each word; and enabling third-party developers to build new tools like consumer gadgets for travel, or robots to check code.”

That’s an awful lot of new capability to throw at us at once, and that very fact may help to explain its failure to catch on. For those of us in the insurance and financial sectors especially, we like to take our technology medicine in measured doses. We see every new technology wrinkle as a potential risk, so we want to be able to examine each wrinkle and decide how or whether we intend to deal with that risk. If a tech provider throws multiple risks at us at once and says, “Adopt it now!” we are understandably overwhelmed.

Another factor here is the mistaken notion that people want to collaborate on all things at all times. As Facebook is finding out, much to its chagrin, my friends’ friends—whether business or social—are not necessarily my friends. Google notes that when Google Wave was announced, “developers in the audience stood and cheered.” That’s great for the developers, but the developer community is apparently not representative of the broader business or social communities. The current backwash of privacy concerns that has hit Facebook and other social media sites was magnified in the Wave model, where collaboration had the potential to get far more intimate than most users were willing to tolerate.

I have no doubt that the great features of Google Wave will be rolled into future products and iterations of social media outlets, but the people who do the rolling will need to do so judiciously. When the audience we play to is ourselves (developers, IT pros), we can hardly be surprised if our enthusiasm for a big technological leap isn’t shared by outside groups with different priorities and risk tolerances.

To put it another way, I love ice cream on a steamy summer day. If you’re going to back up the truck and drop a whole palette of my favorite flavor on my driveway, however, I am just not prepared to handle that. For now, just give me two scoops on a sugar cone.

Ara C. Trembly ( is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Ara using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at

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Comments (3)

I particularly agree with the ice cream metaphor!

One thing that Wave was definitely lacking in my opinion was the ability to communicate with non-Wave users. The closed ecosystem of fellow Wave users was simply too small to provide any value. This, for me, degraded Wave to yet-another-tool.

From an insurance perspective, let's continue putting together the building blocks of web 2.0 that we really can use inside our companies (in our own time). Wave just may be the future blueprint of what will eventually be the result of a combination of todays tools.

Posted by: Florian A | August 9, 2010 4:49 AM

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I think the failure of Google Wave reflects a common destiny of over-hyped view of technical capabilities. While the people use social networking and collaboration tools all the time, they are typically used in context, within a tool or workflow. The mistake is thinking that you can genericize those capabilities into a "black box" and expect broad usefulness and adoption. Technologists who think some capability is cool, and media and analysts who then hype it as the second coming, forget that most of time real people use these capabilities to actually accomplish something that produce value for them, not just to play with them because they're interesting or cool. And that accomplishing is usually a part of something bigger. IMHO, it's when these capabilities are in the context of that overall accomplishing process, tool, workflow, etc. that the mere wow-factor will translate to the gotta-have-it buying decision.

Posted by: Edward G | August 6, 2010 1:44 PM

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This also may point to an unrecognized desire to limit the ubiquity of "social" communication. When LinkedIn, a business networking site, confused itself with Facebook and Twitter -- and especially when it started posting Twitter feeds as "status updates" -- the bloom was off the rose.

Posted by: Mark OB | August 6, 2010 1:23 PM

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