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Google Failures and What We Can Learn from Them

When the word Google is mentioned the first thing that comes to mind is Google search. Although that was its first and most successful product, there have been many others. Among the most well known aside from its search engine is Android, the mobile operating system (OS) that as of 2018 commanded an eye-raising 85.1% of the smartphone OS market share.

Today, thanks to those successful products and more, Google (under its parent company Alphabet) is capitalized at a whopping $727 billion. This makes it one of the top five American companies in existence. Yet not all has been smooth sailing for this tech behemoth and it’s gotten its fair share of egg on the face over the years.

Let’s look at some of the whoppers that Google has come out with and what has been happening to them over the years. Remember, Google has been around for a long time, so some of these products may stretch back from many years ago.

Google Plus

Google Plus

Although Google Plus is used by many people today, it is far from what the company envisioned when it started out. Originally intended as a social media platform like the likes of Facebook, Google Plus has been relegated to mostly integrated platform sign-ins and other miscellanea.

As a social media platform, Google Plus still pales in comparison with Facebook. comScore, a market research company, estimates that Google+ users only spend around three minutes monthly on the site. Facebook users on the other hand, sped around 405 minutes a month on that site.

Yes, despite all of this, Google was adamant in continuing Google Plus until very recently when a bug was discovered in the Google Plus API which allowed third-party app developers to mine user data. It chose to hush up news of the bug and – you guessed it – got caught.

Google will finally be shutting down Google Plus for the general public and tightening up restrictions on app permissions.

Google Buzz

Google Buzz

Yet another attempt at creating a social media network, Google Buzz lived a very short and unspectacular life from 2010 to 2011. It was designed to allow users to blog, discuss and message on an integrated platform – again, like Facebook.

However, Google also tends to run similar things by separate teams, and Buzz was dropped in favour of Google Plus. Even in such a short life though, Google Buzz managed to get slapped with at least one lawsuit when a Harvard Student alleged the platform “violated user expectations, diminished user privacy, contradicted Google's privacy policy, and may have violated federal wiretap laws”.

Google pulled the plug on Buzz in March 2011, R.I.P.

Google Notebook

Google Notebook let users save and organize snippets of information from various online sources. That sounds like the perfect tool for students and researchers (or even writers like yours truly), right?

Unfortunately, it was the victim of technology and fell by the wayside as browser extensions doing the same thing basically flooded the market. Most importantly, these extensions were also available in various forms on competitor products such as Mozilla Firefox.

After a six-year struggle, Google Notebook was terminated and similar functions were incorporated into what is known today as Google Docs.

Google Moderator

Google Moderator

If you’ve ever used reddit the you’ll likely have an idea of what Google Moderator used to be. Moderator was introduced in 2008 and was intended as a platform for users to field questions and answers, with other users ranking how good those questions or answers were.

Unfortunately for Google, Moderator was not as popular as reddit and after a long drag-out it finally shut the curtains in 2015. This was yet another example of the search engine giant trying to take over the function of an existing product and assuming it could simply because it had so many users in its grasp.

Too bad, so sad.

Google Helpouts

Google Helpouts

Yet another short-lived product, Google Helpouts was meant for people to help each other via live video. It’s like remote assistance in a way, where your helper could be on the other side of the world and still walk you through or even show you how to do something.

People who were interested in helping could list their areas of expertise and experience on the site and get paid through Google Wallet. Everything also tied in through Google Calendar so that timings could be arranged.

Unfortunately, I guess asking a friend for help was more popular since they didn’t have to get paid, so Google Helpouts, didn’t really get much help. It was shut down in 2015, a mere two years after introduction.


Google Picasa

Technically not really a failure, Picasa was used by many over the years as their online photo app. It was available for both Windows and MacOS, originally bought by Google in 2004. Its demise was expected as the app was not updated for a long time, incidentally, as Google Photos was emerging.

Eventually, Picasa was phased out and replaced by Google Photos which was newer and more feature-rich than Picasa. I think the biggest failure point of Picasa was that it had a lack of sharing features, so when Google saw which way technology was leaning, it decided to build on Google Photos instead.

Still, an app which was of use for many years.

Google Wave

Google Wave

Another of the more obscure Google products, Google Wave was intended by Google to allow real-time communication and collaboration? Sounds familiar doesn’t it? That’s right – Google now has these features in Google Docs, which lets multiple people access, edit and discuss documents or spreadsheets.

Wave itself has today been transformed into the Apache Wave project and is open source. Wave in a Box, its main product is a sort of web server that is more for development use than anything else. It sounds like Google milked Wave for all it was worth and then moved the parts that worked into Google Docs.

Google Glass

Google Glass

The last on this list (and my personal favourite) is something which still raises some debate today. You see, Google Glass, unlike other Google products on this list, isn’t dead. However, what Google intended was for Google glass to flood the market as microcomputers.

It was a type of smartwear which anyone could use and assisted by a tiny computer chip, would be able to provide the user with information on a head-up display type interface, take photos and video and more.

Sounds really cool huh? Unfortunately, it never really caught on for some reason, although today Google Glass has found niche use in some industries. For example, to assist in medical procedures, helping children with Autism learn and in factory assembly lines.

For normal consumers, you can even buy Google Glass some places like Amazon, but it’ll just set you back more than $1,000 or so.

Yet the reason why I say it failed is because the result, while admirable, failed to meet its core purpose – to flood the consumer market with yet another Google Product.

Learning from the Google Lesson

These examples of failed products by a single company are only the tip of the iceberg – there are more. Yet it only goes to show that a company as tech savvy and future-looking like Google isn’t immune from the traps of business.

You see, Google is and always has been a search engine driven company. It is their core product, so everything they do, is with the aim of expanding Google Search even more. Take Android for example.

It helped manufacturers flood the market with affordable smartphones which are deeply tied in to so many Google products – Google Photos, Google Mail and more. Unfortunately, not everything works as planned, so Google, just as with every other company, has its fair share of lemons.

Sometimes, it may not be the case that a product is bad, per se, but it just isn’t the right time for it. Take the case of Palm Inc., a PDA manufacturer that tried to introduce personal digital assistants (PDAs) like the Palm III in 1998.

I remember at that time that I was in my final year of Computer Science in university and I managed to get my hands on one. So, my team and I decided to build an application for the Palm IIIc – something for use in the medical field.

We wrote from scratch a program which would turn the PDA into a doctor’s notepad, complete with consultation note and the graphic of a human body, intending to tie that into a central database. Unfortunately, technology had not yet met our needs, and many things we needed were not yet out or just emerging.

Yet we managed a rudimentary working system – the first in our country at the time. We eventually discontinued it because technology limitations made the concept unviable at the time.

Conclusion: Make Lemonade!

Yes, it started out as Google failures, but everyone can take something away from this. Not everything new succeeds, and some old concepts eventually morph into newer and better things (even if some years later).

Ideas are what the world of invention run on and having a vision is important. Just because you have an idea that fails, doesn’t mean that it’s a total loss – learn something from it and perhaps, rebuild on the idea at a later date.

Photo of author

Article by Timothy Shim

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