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Google Wave, a Victim of Hubris and Sloppy Marketing

In ancient Greece, hubris-hybris-was a crime, a presumption toward the gods, characterized by wanton violence, insolence, outrage. This excess of pride, arrogance and ambition often led to the transgressor's ruin.

Are we seeing the mighty Google offending with an excess of hubris? Has "do no evil" become a self-referential slogan designed to deceive rather than act as a moral compass?

In recent weeks we've seen some distressing signals coming out of Mountain View. Google's joint policy paper with Verizon on net neutrality has been met with near universal censure, while, on a more tangible note, Google's abandonment of its Wave platform has been barely noticed.

The hubris in Google's about-face stance on net neutrality seems obvious, but I'm here to gripe about the death of Wave. While not surprising given its lack of adoption, I am sorry to see Wave go because I found its collaborative platform an ideal teaching tool. I was probably an advocate of one, I realize, but that's largely because Google did such a terrible job of marketing the product.

As an adjunct professor in the MBA programs at the University of San Francisco, I use Google Wave (at least until Google pulls the plug) as the presentation platform in my courses. Though more utilitarian than PowerPoint-lacking its graphic capabilities-Google Wave allows me to include all the students on the Wave, giving them access to the content and links, all in real time, both during the class and at home.

Students add their own content, add their goals and questions, and we all communicate on the Wave. They post their homework assignments to the Wave for both presentation and discussion. Not only does this give me a permanent record of their work, it allows for healthy peer evaluation.

Here's an example from my current class on The Customer, where one student, Carolina, posted a TED Talk relevant to the topic of consumer choice.


Pretty cool, right?

I'm sharing the things I like about Wave to show that it really is a useful product, and it could have had plenty of success had Google just marketed it properly (or marketed it all, for that matter).

Google committed a mistake all too common among tech companies: It offered up a great product but let users try to figure out the best use applications on their own.

That's not just hubris. That's also foolish.

For a company that believes only in the validity of "the data," Google could have tested Wave extensively-not just in beta-to gain true consumer insight into its usability and application.

Google's habit of tossing new technology into the marketplace, under-marketing it, and then abandoning it when it doesn't achieve critical mass, is evidence of a company that is blinded by its own success. CEO Eric Schmidt, talking to a group of reporters earlier this month at Techonomy, a new conference, put a positive spin on Wave's demise. "We celebrate our failures," he said.

Perhaps, but surely he'd rather celebrate its success. Google needs a serious CMO who can help guide new technologies into the market. But as long as the founders' data-driven culture remains intact, and marketing remains a second-class citizen, that will likely never happen.

Many people suspect that Wave was an experiment in Google's journey to launch its own social network platform to take on Facebook. And Schmidt hinted as such at Techonomy, saying that Google would apply the technology behind Wave to upcoming products.

Even so, Wave's ill-considered and premature launch, and shuttering, was a trick played on its potential users, at their expense. In the meantime, I plan to use Google Wave in my classes for as long as it's available. Then, we may well remember these lines by the Romantic poet Shelley:


"...Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away".

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