The weekend dive is often how I first dip my toes into some new technology or tool. If I’m lost after a weekend, unless the story is truly compelling, I will probably focus my attention somewhere else. I took that dive with my new Google Wave developer sandbox a couple of weeks ago. I had proposed a fairly ambitious, but really useful application of wave for tracking athlete progress and training for my ski team. It may be awhile for either Wave or me are ready to tackle that, mostly because the user identity piece is still under development. The quick test for me was whether or not I could grok the tool itself, create, update and interact with wave, and actually put a working wave on my website. The result was…. score! I’m still interested.
Anil Dash posted his thoughts on whether Wave would succeed or not, coming to the conclusion that it won’t because it doesn’t work the “Web Way” as he describes it. He does a nice job of describing the reality of how developers consciously or unconsciously decide if a tool is worth investing time into with a weekend dive much like mine. His conclusion was different though. It was different because he focused on the guts, the the underlying protocols needed to produce your own wave server and robots. I think he erred thinking this would be what potential developers would be most interested in. I disagree and think most developers and users will be happy using the provided infrastructure, and won’t run into many of the issues he describes. But his comments on how innovation succeeds on the web are more interesting to me.
He believes the “web way” is small, simple incremental improvements that over time evolve the web in the way people want. He also refers to his recently coined term, Pushbutton web as an example of this type of evolution. You can easily point to examples of what he describes here, so he is correct, yes? Maybe not.
There was an excellent book written, “The Innovator’s Dilemma” where a study of how innovation happened was done by the author, Clayton Christiansen and others. What he found was counter intuitive, both for the semiconductor industry he focused on, and for the web industry. He found that conventional thinking centered on incremental improvements based on what customers wanted. That sounds like the “Web Way” to me. He also found that successful innovation often succeeds by doing the opposite of what the market thinks it wants. Instead, it creates new markets of under served consumers that eventually take over from their predecessors.
It is way too soon to say if Wave will succeed or not, but looking at innovative ideas from the lens of your current thinking will probably result in misguided conclusions. You really have to think about these things as new, and decide if people will adopt them. Once enough do, they can become competitors to existing products, tools and technologies. The question is not whether Wave replaces email. It is whether people find ways to use wave that aren’t served by existing tools. Once that happens, people themselvles will decide whether it’s a replacement, an addition, or a waste of time.