Google Wave failure proves social networking is tough

Lessons learned from the demise of Google Wave — Google threw in the towel on its first social networking offering this week — could provide the company’s engineers with a chance to come up with a far more viable service, analysts say.

Google announced on Wednesday that it is killing off its collaboration and communication tool about a year after the Google Wave service was launched.

In a blog post yesterday, Urs Hoelzle, Google senior vice president for operations, acknowledged that the social networking service was unable to gain any traction with users.

While Google Wave will be just another failed product by the end of the year, pieces of it will live on in other Google projects, the company said.

And that leads some industry watchers to wonder if Google is cutting bait so its developers can dust themselves off, use some lessons learned and some of Google Wave’s most interesting features to begin work on new social networking product.

Related Article: Is Google moving too far (from search) too fast?

“This is typical Google-like behavior. They aren’t shy about killing projects that don’t hit their expectations,” said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. “I don’t think that users really got it when it came to Wave. But this was a good learning experience for Google. They now know they need to bring a more fully baked product to the market. They also have to clearly articulate why users should jump on board. I don’t think this is Google’s last run at social networking. There are rumors about a new product — Google Me — that looks to be their next shot at this market.”

Talk started circulating around the Internet about Google Me late in June. While Google hasn’t confirmed any of the widespread speculation, the reports of efforts to build a Facebook-killer persist.

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, agreed that if Google can learn from the failure of Google Wave, the company will have a better shot at building and launching a successful social networking service the second time around.

“Social networking is absolutely harder than it looks,” added Enderle. “It’s not a technical problem as much as a social problem. It’s trying to solve a people problem and engineers, by their nature, suck at solving people problems. Google is going to have to address behavioral and social skills to build another service.”

Both Enderle and Olds believe that Google is working on another social networking service … a Facebook-like offering that’s more attractive to consumers — and less about collaboration.

“Why not? Facebook is making itself an easy target,” added Enderle. “I think Google will go down this path and it’s probably closer to what Google should be doing anyway. It’s a Web property. The social networking aspect of the Web is more closely related to search than almost any other successful thing out there.”

Olds noted that a new Google social network better have a lot of notable contrasts with Google Wave.

“Social networking is a tough racket,” said Olds. “If they come out with a new service, it will have to have a feature-packed tool that is easy to use, secure, and be highly scalable. And then they’ll need to attract swarms of users quickly to gain enough momentum to get it off the ground. It isn’t easy to pull off. If it were, we’d see a lot more competitors taking a run at Facebook.”

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld.


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