Wave Bye-Bye

Google's decision to pull the plug on Wave was hardly surprising. Not only did Wave stumble out of the gate and then never quite get its footing, it violated a core principle of software as a service (SaaS): It's the application, stupid.

If you're going to be in the SaaS business, you need to deliver an application that's attractive, comprehensible, and usable immediately. Not after a horde of developers built a library of interesting widgets. Not after a quasi-beta program in which the product is really in production, but you just choose to call it beta. Not after potential users scratch their heads for days, wondering what the heck this Wave thing is supposed to do, and then sell their equally perplexed colleagues on its purported value. Deliver value now is the cardinal rule of SaaS.

On-Premise Strategy For An On-Demand Application
Wave's product strategy resembled a traditional on-premise strategy, in which you built the platform first, and then added an application to it. In the cloud, the product strategy moves in exactly the opposite direction: application first, then platform. A classic example is the Salesforce portfolio, which started with a highly capable CRM application that was easy to implement. Later came the platform, Force.com, on which customers and partners could build customizations and adjacent applications.

In the on-premise world, the platform-first strategy was a necessity born out of ignorance of the customer. Given the many layers of delivery, marketing, evaluation, decision, and implementation between the people who develop the technology and those who consume it, technologists faced many challenges understanding their customers, particularly in the sociologically and economically complex B2B domain. The robust platform provided the distant customer with a tool kit that allowed the customers to build what they wanted instead of the development team guessing what that application might be. The content management and collaboration world was full of these tool kits marketed as solutions, such as Vignette during its salad days.

SaaS provides an opportunity to observe how customers find your product, evaluate it, adopt it, and use it. These insights come at a price: a commitment to improving, at as rapid a rate as possible, the value that the application delivers.

You Are Not Your Market
Given the high failure rates of adoption among these content management and collaboration "solutions" (roughly 50%, a number that hasn't changed for over a decade), the Wave team might have heeded the cautionary tale they provided. Instead, they built a tool that, as the brothers Rasmussen described, fit they way they collaborated. Unfortunately, a bright group of Silicon Valley developers is only an infinitesimally small segment of the much bigger collaboration market that they needed to convince that Wave had value.

No application, out of the box, will ever satisfy everyone. Content management and collaboration tools may have some of the greatest difficulty reaching the 80/20 bar, with the highly fluid ways that people collaborate, and the highly idiosyncratic rules under which they manage content. Nevertheless, it's possible to build a collaboration application that satisfies more people than Wave did.