Google Wave makes smart design decisions early

Which business problems will Google Wave address?
A few weeks ago, I watched the Google Wave launch video with a mix of interest and nervousness. A big part of my reaction was shaped (warped?) by my experience doing product management and product marketing for collaboration and content management products. While I didn't launch myself at the screen yelling "Noooooooo!" (in slow motion), I did worry that Google might walk straight into an all-too-familiar minefield of competing solution areas.

Collaboration and content management pose a classic problem in requirements and design: Which solution do you want to target? If you build a product without prioritizing among all the different business problems that it might address, you'll build a very "horizontal" product that satisfies no one. Or, worse, it makes perfect sense to you, but everyone else struggles to see how it will best work for them.

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Market development: horizon or mirage?

The recession has sharpened the points of a dilemma that technology vendors were already facing: Do cleave closely to our existing customers, or try to expand outwards? Do we try to sell more into existing account in familiar markets, or do we look for new markets where people are struggling with business problems that look congruent with the ones we're solving for our existing customers?

With no obviously correct choices, vendors experiment, to the point where they see real opportunity, or decide that the exercise is going nowhere. But how do you know if you've invested enough into the experiment to get a reliable result?

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