There has been an ocean’s worth of schadenfreude spilled over Google’s decision to kill Wave, its experimental real-time collaboration tool. The reasons: It never had a purpose, it was too over-engineered in typical Googley fashion, it was a collection of features in search of a need, and so on. But shouldn’t we be celebrating the fact that Google was willing to experiment at all? That’s Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s view — he told reporters at the Techonomy conference that “we celebrate our failures,” saying the company encourages staff to take risks and possibly fail. And he is right to do so.
Yes, Wave was a hodgepodge of geeky features (hey look — I can see you typing while I’m typing!) without any real compelling use case. But the idea that people might want to collaborate in new ways isn’t a crazy one, and the concept of blending wiki-type features with instant messaging and document management isn’t really all that far-fetched either. It’s possible that Wave was just a little too early, and that most people haven’t even gotten used to the idea of Google Docs, let alone an all-in-one Swiss Army knife version. That doesn’t mean it was a stupid idea.
In any case, the impulse to experiment with such things and then release those features and services into the wild is arguably one of the best things about Google — such as the 20-percent projects that occasionally become Gmail or Google News or one of the company’s other big success stories. John Gruber of the Apple blog Daring Fireball writes that he is surprised Wave was even shipped, and that no other company would ever have released it. That may be true — and Apple certainly wouldn’t have, since its focus on hyper-designing everything borders on the pathological.
But that said, isn’t one of the positive things about web companies that they can experiment with things, and “fail quickly and fail often?” Isn’t that what so many startup advisors keep telling companies they should be prepared to do if they want to succeed? It’s kind of refreshing that a company the size of Google is still tossing experiments out into the world to see what happens to them and then try to learn from that. There aren’t many other large companies that are willing to do that.
So maybe Wave was poorly designed, or over-engineered, and didn’t deserve to live. But we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn Google for releasing it or experimenting with it — if anything, we should be cheering them on. Here’s a video of Eric Schmidt talking about Wave and other topics such as net neutrality at the Techonomy conference: