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In the web world, failure is as much a feature of innovation as success. You have to fail to succeed. When you’re a company with practises as innovative as Google’s you’re bound to fail along the way. The search giant’s well-documented policy of having its employees dedicate 20 percent of their time to projects they feel passionately about has resulted in some of the company’s biggest successes. Gmail, GTalk, Google News and AdSense are all web products that have emerged from this “20 percent time”.
In a company that produces as many products (and it has produced many, many products) as Google, however, there will be some spectacular failures. With this in mind, Memeburn decided to look at some of the less-famous projects Google has launched, some with a great deal fanfare, but now quietly shelved or consigned to the internet’s wastelands.
1. Google X
One day. That’s how long this project lasted, one day. Launched on 15 March 2005 and pulled on March 16 2005, Google X had the traditional Google search bar but incorporated various Google product images in a manner reminiscent of the Mac OS X dock user system. Or, if you’ve managed to wilfully avoid any awareness of what’s going on in the Mac world, the taskbar on Windows 7.
Google has never offered any explanation for its decision to scrap Google X.
2. Google Catalogs
This was, essentially, a service which allowed users to search through mail order catalogues which the Google team had scanned. Why would such a thing fail? After all, it would be brilliant to find out what prices a specialist product provider is charging right? Well, yes it would. It’s just that all of that information can be achieved without the tedious process of scanning a catalogue page-by-page. It’s called a website.
Maybe we shouldn’t be too harsh on Catalogs though, the technology used was the catalyst behind every student’s favourite excuse not to visit a university library: Google books.
Froogle was never so much a failed product as failed name. Much like that weird band only you liked in high school, no one else got it. Froogle was designed as a price-comparison service but, unless you were a fan of Google themed puns, the name did nothing to make this obvious.
The solution: A makeover.
4. Google Video
Google Video is perhaps best viewed as one of those rare cases in which Google was chasing the pack rather than overtaking or leading it. The problem was that by the time it got around to launching a video service, looking up a video online had come to mean YouTube; in much the same way as doing a general search had come to mean Google.
In the end, Google bought out YouTube and found a relatively unobtrusive way of including advertising onto the site.
5. Web accelerator
Launched in 2005, accelerator was designed to increase the speed at which users could access pages by caching and “prefetching” content from Google’s own servers. The service only worked for users with a broadband connection, and then only those running Windows. These were not, however the worst of accelerator’s problems.
That particular honour goes to security issues, which included the caching of individuals’ activities on a variety of websites.
6. Google Answers
Answers was basically Google for people who didn’t have time for Google. Users would pay contracted researchers to search on their behalf and Google would retain a percentage of the profit. A series of issues could lie behind the closing of this service in 2006, four years after it was launched. Among these were suspicions that service could be used for plagiarism (however much Google tried to deny that the service could be used for academic questions) and the fact that users had stopped being notified when their questions were answered.
7. Google Coupons
Online coupons are huge. The rise and rise of Groupon is proof of this. Back in 2006 Google had the idea of combining Google Maps with online coupons. In between the service’s quiet shutting down, Google tried to buy Groupon, failed, and launched Google Offers.
The service will supposedly link with Google Wallet and a variety of social networking platforms.
8. Voice Search
This one needs a bit of clarification. We’re referring to the 2003 version, which required users to go the voice search site, call up a phone number, wait for a series of prompts and then go to a link which would appear on the voice search. If it sounds complicated, it’s because it was.
9. Google Viewer
Google Viewer, which was being reported on as early as 2002 was designed to display the actual pages from your search results in a kind of scrolling slideshow.
The fact that the first two questions on the FAQ section of the still-live product information page are “How can I stop Google Viewer from automatically flipping through the search results?” and “How do I get back to the regular Google search results?” tells you all you need to know about how Google’s customers felt about the product.
10. Google Checkout
Yet another one of Google’s failed “imitate rather than innovate” products. Checkout was designed to compete with Paypal, owned by eBay. The problems started when Google decided to have a party to launch its new product in the same town, at the same time as eBay was having its annual sellers’ conference. Oh, it also invited all the eBay sellers to the party. eBay, then Google’s biggest AdWords client promptly pulled all of its ads from Google. A day later, the product was pulled.
It was subsequently relaunched but remained on eBay’s banned payment methods list.
Wave is amongst the most derided of Google’s failed products. As a tool for real time, collaborative editing it had potential. It had a cool sci-fi inspired name. It was launched with a huge dose of hype and had early interest. Ultimately, however, Wave was shut down due to a reported lack of interest.
While the standalone now exists as Apache Wave, Google has taken a number of the lessons learned from Wave and incorporated them into Google Plus which, as everyone is so keen to remind us, is more than a social network.
Have you ever had to page through Google search result page after search result page in order to get the result you want? SearchWiki, launched in 2008, aimed to fix that by allowing you to move results up and down the search page , delete them and attach comments to search results.
Sounds like work, doesn’t it? The kind of dedication and effort required to get anything meaningful out SearchWiki is one of the probable reasons behind its demise in 2010. Even the stars which Google initially put in place of the failed product are now gone.
13. Audio Ads
Audio Ads was an attempt by Google to transfer its Ad Words platform onto Radio. Not internet radio mind you. No, they were aiming at selling advertising space on traditional radio. You know, the thing your grandparents would’ve called “The Wireless”?
Google abandoned audio ads and a number of its other traditional advertising sections in early 2009. If Google ever needed proof of why they should stick to what they know when it comes to advertising, this was it.
14. Print Ads
The newspaper industry has a love hate relationship with Google, what with the whole ‘new media killing old media’ thing. It’s no small wonder then that they didn’t crack this one.
Print Ads was part of Google’s plan to run everything ever. The service was supposed to meld Google’s Adwords system with partners in the print industry. Despite having some 800 print partners, the project was never viable and Google killed it in 2009.
Tempting as it is to quote throwaway lines from the movie of the same name here, we’ll refrain. Dodgeball wasn’t one of Google’s homegrown apps. A precursor to Latitude, it used SMS to broadcast a user’s location to certain, set number of people.
Google bought the company in 2005 from founders Alex Rainert and Dennis Crowley. They left the company after disagreements with Google in 2007 and the company was shut down for good in 2009. As for Crowley, well he went on to co-found a little location-based company you might’ve heard of: Foursquare. Rainert has joined Crowley there head of product.
This is another product which Google elected to buyout without any real idea of how it intended to use it. Jaiku is a microblogging service, developed in Finland and named because its posts look similar to the Japanese poetry form of the Haiku.
17. Google Notebook
You might be slightly confused if you go the Google notebook site and see what appears to be a fully functioning page. If you try to do what the page suggests and use the notebook browser extension, you’ll be delivered to a notice page telling you that you can now find notebook’s functionality on other Google products.
If you believe Google’s blog post, explaining the shutting down of notebook then its 2009 demise was part of the evolution of Google. Some of notebook’s genes reportedly found their way into Google Docs, Gmail Tasks and SearchWiki, which was to fail less than a year later.
18. Page Creator
It doesn’t exactly require an imaginative leap to figure out what this product was intended for. Page Creator was designed as a simple website creation service. Behind it was the ideal of allowing the average, non-technical user to create their very own, basic site.
In 2008, Page Creator’s services were migrated to Google Sites.
19. Google Labs
While many of the above products emerged from Google’s Labs, so did many of Google’s successes. This is, after all, something which bills itself as “a playground where our more adventurous users can play around with prototypes of some of our wild and crazy ideas and offer feedback directly to the engineers who developed them”.
Google recently announced that they will be shutting down Labs in a reported effort to simplify their products. In that statement, Senior Vice President for Research and Systems Infrastructure states that Google will “continue to push speed and innovation—the driving forces behind Google Labs—across all our products”.
20. Realtime Search
Realtime allowed users to see real-time updates from the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Quora in their Google search results. In July this year, Google shut Realtime down so quietly you’d swear it was a conspiracy.
All that could be said at the time was Realtime had been shut down on the same day as the product’s deal with Twitter had expired.
Google now say that the shut down is a temporary measure until they figure out how to integrate the service into Google+