I think that it’s great that Google is iterating Gmail (read Tim O’Reilly’s excellent write-up on it here), and actually improving an existing product, versus rolling out a knock-off of something that is already in the market.
Nonetheless. I am confused. I thought that Google Wave was destined to be the new Gmail, but after yesterday’s announcement, I am left wondering if Gmail is, instead, the new Google Wave.
How did that happen? Well, for starters, the Company is so obtuse about what’s a Project, what’s a Product and what’s a Platform that I am unsure if Google Buzz is to be treated akin to a “concept car” or if it constitutes a real strategic initiative within the Company.
Worse, Google has this somewhat head-achey culture of creating overlapping offerings (think: Buzz, Wave, Reader, Talk, Gmail, Chrome, Android), and then giving cloudy guidance on demarcation lines between what is what.
As a customer, partner or developer, wouldn’t it be nice if they could just be clear where they are experimenting, where there’s a committed road map with release dates and where the offering ties into a larger vision (e.g., core technologies with unified strategies)?
For example, wouldn’t Google Reader be better nested inside of this buzz-able Gmail than in its current wooden frame? Will the Company ever have a unified reader/player model?
Similarly, if Android is the hot mobile platform, why do we need Chrome? Will tablet devices, a hybrid between mobile devices and netbooks, be Chrome powered or Android powered?
Adding to the confusion, over the years I have seen enough cases where Google offerings sit in Google Labs, yet by all accounts, are real products.
In other cases, the term Beta is more marketing moniker than anything; it doesn’t really mean anything, as it’s not like Google is (generally) committing to dates and deliverables.
Still, in other cases, we just stop hearing about the offering, but even in those cases, the product never fully dies (read: Orkut).
All of this leaves me wondering what in Google’s DNA suggests a culture of delighting customers, and relentlessly focusing on the details needed to deliver a better user experience that is supported by a clear strategy?
If anything, the “Google Way” has taught me that their loosely-coupled approach leads to uninspiring, weakly integrated products that may or may not have a predictable lifecycle to them.
Put another way, why should I pay prolonged, serious attention to Google Buzz until Google shows that THEY are committed to paying prolonged, serious attention to it?