When Google announced the shutdown of Google Reader, its popular RSS reader, it sparked significant outrage across the Web. While one could argue that RSS readers have declined in popularity over the past few years (in fact, that was Google’s stated reason for killing it), they remain a useful tool for many people who want to collect their Web content—articles, blog postings, and the like—in one convenient place. Fortunately for them, there exist any number of alternative RSS readers, some of which offer even more features than Google Reader.
This wasn’t the first time that Google announced a project’s imminent demise, and it certainly won’t be the last: under CEO Larry Page, the search-engine giant has embarked on an ambitious plan to winnow down its extensive portfolio of products. That’s a bit of a sea change for an organization that once seemed determined to let its employees build (and often release, at least in Google Labs) whatever they wanted on their “20 percent time,” but its one that Page evidently feels is necessary as his company battles Microsoft, Apple, and other tech giants in a number of categories.
But many of those projects, while canceled, nonetheless maintain the love and affection—or in some cases, the undying hatred—of many of their former users. Here are just some of the most notable casualties of Google’s experimentation over the past few years:
Google Buzz: One imagines the release of Google Buzz—which let users post short messages and links using their Google accounts—made the folks over at Twitter a little bit nervous. If so, they needn’t have worried: controversy over Buzz’s privacy settings (which initially allowed others to see a user’s Gmail contacts by default) helped doom the service, which Google killed almost two years after its launch.
Google Labs: This Website (which Google described as a “playground”) allowed the company’s engineers and developers to post their crazier ideas for the masses. Some of them were actually useful, albeit in fairly narrow circumstances—one Google Labs project, known as Mail Googles, could force people to actually stop and think before firing off an email they might later regret, by requiring them to solve a set of (fairly simple) math problems. Few of these projects ever made it to primetime, however, and Google executives obviously decided that Labs wasn’t worth the trouble after a certain point.
Google Video: If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em. That was Google’s philosophy when it shelled out $1.65 billion to buy YouTube back in 2006. That was also the death knell for Google Video, the company’s homegrown video-search platform. By mid-2012, Google Video (also known as Google Videos) was shut down and its content shipped over to its former competitor.
Google Health: Who wouldn’t want to store their health records in Google’s cloud? Nobody, as it turned out. Although the idea of a centralized, durable repository for one’s personal health records is potentially a good one, Google Health never caught on with the public at large—possibly because of privacy concerns, or maybe because nobody wanted to go through the laborious process of manually entering their health information into the system. Health-services providers didn’t exhibit a whole lot of public enthusiasm for the initiative, either, which may have contributed to its eventual shutdown in 2012.
Google Wave: Originally announced in 2009, Google Wave was meant as the next evolutionary step in collaboration, a way to combine several different kinds of functionality—email, document-sharing, instant messaging, and more—onto a single platform. Groups participating in a “wave” could add participants, edit within messages (while seeing the edits actually take place in real time), and create collaborative documents. It was ambitious but also difficult to explain to newbies in a concise manner, and thus it never really caught on as a work tool. Google shut down the Wave in April 2012.
Now that Google Reader is on the chopping block, the only question is: what’s next? Which of Google’s much-hyped projects will end up in the dustbin of tech history after little public interest? The engineers behind Google Glass better hope it proves a hit.