Ryan Stewart — a platform evangelist for Adobe — wrote a post resentful of Google Wave’s hype — and lamented the lack of similar interest and enthuasism for rich internet applications (RIAs), writing that Adobe,
just [doesn’t] seem to encourage the visionary demos, the ones that make people rethink how they’ll communicate and interact.
The resulting discussion was worth a read, especially comments by Brian Lesser. While one of the arguments was over whether Wave could be built with Adobe technologies, that’s the least interesting part of the conversation. As Ryan points out,
people don’t get excited about standards — they get exited about vision.
And that’s where I think there’s something to be realized.
Google is a company that values big thinking and puts resources into big ideas — what I’ve heard referred to as “BHAGs“, or “big hairy audacious goals”. I mean, their mission statement is to index and make available all the world’s information. That kind of brand promise has benefits beyond just Google, and I think that sets them apart.
The promise of Google Wave is to transform how people communicate and collaborate — and Google can credibly take on a challenge like that, because they’ve done a pretty good job of doing transforming search, and then — almost accidently — maps (even though, again, you could argue that draggable maps could have been done in Flash at the same time, but you’d be missing the point).
What Google seems to do well is focus on some obvious and widespread problem that regular people have and apply a determined, quantitive approach to solving the problem. Wave is probably their most risky bet yet because of the complexity of their solution, but I think anyone who deals with a large amount of information — in real-time or asynchronously — has to admit that our current tools just aren’t cutting it. And it’s only going to get worse unless something better is created.
But the benefits of such a technological solution will be missed unless it rapidly achieves scale through widespread and ubiquitous adoption — which requires an open, royalty-free standards-based approach. Just read Hal Varian’s book on the subject, and you’ll realize that the reason that Google Wave is exciting is that it represents a multifaceted solution with a little something for everyone: the interface and user experience is controversial and novel providing designers a hook; the technology stack pleases and challenges open source hackers and the tech press equally; the collaboration and communication aspects excite businesses, managers, and any frustrated by email; and sceptics are held at bay by the cleverness of the economics of Google Wave — from the outset, Wave servers are designed to be run by other actors besides Google. That is, if you don’t want Google to own the space, you’ve now got to decide if you’re going to create a competing platform (and more importantly, “open standard”), or join the fray. Given Google Wave’s first-mover advantage, I think any competitor wishing to offer a competing open standard will be hard pressed to argue why they didn’t just “adopt the Wave Protocol”.
To put this argument another way, this is a product firing on all cylindars, and that’s what we’ve come to expect from Google.
If Adobe had launched Wave — the identical product that Google launched — I don’t think that anyone would take them seriously. As Scott Koon pointed out, Adobe is a toolmaker — they’re not known for big ideas that confront a basic human problem — least of all one related to information on the open web. Instead, Adobe tends to make graphics tools, and products that help organizations lock down information — not share it freely and openly. Wave is just a product that Adobe couldn’t make, because it’s not in Adobe’s DNA to tackle such problems.
It isn’t that Adobe doesn’t have its own BHAGs — it does — but I believe that history and behavior show that most Adobe products end up supporting existing control structures rather than breaking them down — same with Microsoft’s. Google’s products are inspirational because they enable us to imagine — and achieve — a different and perhaps freer tomorrow.