Google has rarely made missteps in its 11 years. Sure, the search giant has shuttered some business plans over the years, but often those failures were either too grandiose and fell outside the company’s core strengths, or too simple and rudimentary to ever grasp scale. Google Wave doesn’t fall into either of those categories per se. It’s grand, yes, but it’s also a complex new service that capitalizes squarely on Google’s depth of expertise. Since its beginning, Google has been on an unrelenting quest for thinking outside the box and introducing new products and user experiences to consumers that they didn’t even know they needed. Success can be measured by how often these products become entrenched in people’s daily lives. Brothers Lars and Jens Rasmussen are the minds behind Google’s latest and greatest feat: Google Wave. Originally named “Walkabout” by the Danish-Australian brother duo, a five-person “startup” team sought to create a new communications model that built on what they considered the most spectacular success in digital communications thus far.
Like nearly every Google project, the premise was simple but far reaching: why is there so much divide between these different types of communication and “could a single communications model span all or most of the systems in use on the web today, in one smooth continuum?” Months later, the team has a working prototype. In late May, at Google’s I/O conference, and two years after its point of inception, Google Wave was introduced as an early preview to developers. Admittedly, one bad thing going for Google Wave is its complex nature. Every developer should quickly understand the aim and potential opportunities presented by Google Wave, but what about marketers? Will it be too confusing to ever catch on? Adam Broitman, partner and ringleader at Circ.us, says he’s just as much perplexed as he is intrigued by Google Wave. “I’m still wrapping my head around it as well. Is this the next email? Is this the game changer that email was?” he asks rhetorically. “It will certainly enhance the way we communicate like Gmail did. I think it’s going to be just as big as Gmail.” To help grasp just what Google Wave might become, Broitman says the idea behind the product is to overlay a real-time component to the web. “Wave may be to the conversational web just as Gmail was to email,” he says. “I think it has an amazing ability to drive conversations around various types of content,” Broitman says, but he admits we won’t really know what it is until we start using it. A Wave that knows no bounds Imagine a living, breathing platform that grows with you and every user involved. Google Wave’s greatest opportunity may lie in its ability to group chat, email, documents, search, and more into a single hub. While it may appear otherwise, Google isn’t reinventing the wheel with Wave. Rather, it is taking at least five functions that are commonplace on the web and grouping them together in a more comprehensive way. Google Wave allows users to interact on a single web page and read what others are typing letter by letter. Any regular instant messaging user will be familiar with the boredom and/or anxiety that takes hold when fellow chatters are crafting a response. So-and-so is typing… Still typing. That doesn’t give either party much of a window into the mindset of the other, and countless hours are wasted waiting for those replies in traditional chat. Privacy advocates will be happy to know that the real-time feature can be turned off, but its technological feats can’t be overblown, particularly since this all happens inside a browser. “Google’s ability to watch the way humans use technology and design around that is pretty amazing,” Broitman says. “What Google does with software, Apple does with hardware.” That said; where is the marketing potential in a Wave? For now, it centers on new ad placement and the ability for marketers to join more conversations as they happen, or even days and weeks later. Google Wave not only lets users thread together conversations in real-time, it also allows for responses and notes to be interjected throughout existing text – regardless of when users jump into the wave. As Lars Rasmussen explained when demonstrating the product at I/O, users can spend 100 percent of their time reading or writing. “I love how you can go back in the conversation and insert things for future reference,” Broitman says. “I think this is propelling the web to the next level of speed.” Aside from that, there’s nothing new for digital marketers on the surface, but don’t count Google Wave out as a marketing tool just yet. Developers put their spin on the Wave Google introduced the product to developers first for good reason. It wants their help. Early on, Google decided to make the product open source to let developers take the foundation of Google Wave and build from there. You can be sure there are at least a few developers brainstorming ways to bring more marketing value to the nascent product. Google doesn’t need to be told how smart a move that was. Look at Twitter – the current reigning champion of social media. Twitter’s small team developed a product that’s incredibly simple on the surface and yet hundreds (perhaps thousands) of developers have created new ways to make the service even more powerful. Without Twitter’s open source platform and the involvement of countless third-party developers, it is doubtful Twitter would have ever entered the mainstream. Even Gmail, something near and dear to Google’s heart, had a much simpler beginning. New functions have been frequently added to the product over the years – some from inside Google’s halls, others from outside talent. Gmail’s reach and business acumen has grown in stride as a result. The point is that developers will define what Google Wave will become. It will be its inherent nature to continue to blaze new paths as it grows to meet more needs – most of which are still unknown and undefined. For now, Google Wave is living in a paradoxical state. It’s starting off simple, but where it goes nobody truly knows. Google’s place in the wave One thing is for certain though: Google has plans for Wave. Although the company hasn’t made clear exactly where the business model lies in the product, a steady gambler could hedge their bets around Google’s strengths and money-making skills in search and ads. “Right now, I don’t see anything for marketers to insert into the conversation that’s wholly new. I don’t see it, but I do see more data and more conversations going on that Google can look at and put contextual ads next to,” Broitman says. “Every innovative idea that Google comes up with, it’s as if they already have the monetization plan down… I would imagine that is their monetization plan for this as well,” he adds. “I don’t see how else they could insert themselves into this.” Still, to his credit, and despite his general enthusiasm and excitement for the new product, Broitman isn’t taking too many leaps. “There’s no way Google can deduce logical meaning from conversations as it’s happening,” he says. “It will be interesting to see how they tailor the ads for these environments.” Broitman imagines at least one way Google might do that. It could offer just one ad per day – bringing maximum value to the advertiser, while adhering to the most relevant placements possible, for example. “I would hate to see them just use this as another way to stuff ads in,” he says. Google Wave has the potential to create a tremendous amount of inventory, and though much of it will be nonsense (at least in the marketing sense), Google surely has something up its sleeve. Broitman says he’d be particularly excited if Google could find a way to do a better job with relevance and fewer ads, even if that means a more intrusive front on Google’s part overall. Thinking bigger than social media Make no mistake about it, Google Wave is not meant to displace Facebook or Twitter. Google’s social media plays haven’t really taken off to the level Google has grown accustomed to with other successes, but Google Wave is more than a social media catch-all. As Twitter and Facebook grow like wildfire, both have become harder to navigate and less valuable for marketers. “I’m using these applications less and less… At this time, it’s just too much time to be able to wade through all of that,” Broitman says. “I feel in some way, Wave will be able to solve some of that.” While Microsoft plays catch-up by developing search functionalities that Google introduced five years ago, Google continues to innovate. As Broitman puts it, Microsoft took a step sideways with Bing, while Google took a step forward with Wave. “Google just continues to innovate, and Yahoo and Microsoft continue to fall off,” he says.