There are some habitual failures in my chosen profession caused by the intermingling of idealistic futurism and pragmatic business models and well as often hostile interaction between visionaries and those fearing change. The failure I’m speaking of is the inability to clearly and meaningfully involve our clients in the release of new products into their lives.
The hype-machine coming from professionals glamored by a new innovative product or from businesses needing to answer to their shareholders on matter of profit are forced into an arms race of noise that influences our clients to retreat rather than engage.
The first of two announcements this week comes from Microsoft. Bing is their latest answer to Google’s dominance in the web search market. They’ve put a great deal of thought and considerable technical expertise into improving users’ search experience in a way that is evolutionary without being bound by other projects (like Wolfram Alpha or more pedestrian attempts like About.com.
The real genius will be Microsoft’s ability to shape the answers to questions users ask. I don’t mean this in any sort of malicious sense. I mean that like the Yellow Pages, they can enable and facilitate economic activity via their approach to user experience. I’m all for the local coffee shop being in Bing, so when I search in an unfamiliar place, I don’t have to settle for the ubiquitous Starbucks.
Google’s announcement of their new Wave platform came later in the week. Built on open, media-rich standard HTML5 and designed to put into the hands of users a synthesis of communication currently only available in a diverse set of competing closed-development products, Google Wave is a standard for developing products and a new communications protocol for those products.
Microsoft’s offering of Bing is inwardly focused. Google’s Wave is outwardly focused. Microsoft is launching a product that is superior to their current search product, but they do so to drive more traffic past their advertisers. This is an innovation in their advertising model; not so much an innovation in web search.
Information is only meaningful in context. That’s why most people I know these days when they come across a word or concept they don’t understand google “wiki” to see if wikipedia or other smaller wiki projects have articles that could uncover the mystery.
Google Wave is about enriching context. Bing is about channeling information into a specific context. This doesn’t make Bing bad, but it illustrates why Wave is to be evaluated on a completely different scale.
No doubt Google has already considered a number of ways to monetize Wave, but they are hoping to develop a new platform for interactivity, not the redirection of it. They are seeking to innovate what we do and how we do it, expanding user experience to occupy a greater share of what our computers are capable of, but not presently enabled for our use.
The hype-machines are troublesome because they create noise. To the average non-professional computer user not only do these two announcements drown each other out, but a dozen or more non-trivial announcements from other companies chattered away in the background as well. What’s my advice to you? Even with something with the potential of Google Wave, avoid the hype. Be patient and wait for the potential to be realized into something that actually affects your lives.
I believe Google Wave will have a significant impact on distance education, virtual office hours, academic social networking, scholarly collaboration and even administration and departmental management. Perhaps not as great as email itself, but then email is part of the evolution required to develop Wave. When real products with real applications arrive in the coming months, I’ll share them.
Until then, don’t worry about the hype, even mine.