Google has taken a shotgun approach to developing product lines from the beginning of their attempts to expand beyond being just a search engine. Their unfocused, communal internal organizational structure was employed to foster an atmosphere of creativity and cooperation fueled by employees happy to be at work. This internal strategy was reflected by the “haphazard” process they employed for product development; Google often launched services early in their beta phase, with little apparent tactical attention paid to exactly what the service would offer to them or how it would coordinate with other existing Google services. Over time this protocol has led to some clumsy choices and closing of services that showed promise but either lacked the corporate vision to be properly deployed or the foresight to realize they should never have made it out of the alpha stage.
Google’s product lineup is littered with these rescinded offerings. Google Wave, Buzz, Aardvark, Catalogs, Froogle, Google Video, Answers, Coupons, Checkout, and Realtime have all failed after showing varying levels promise. Even Google Labs, the 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” has been closed down- an ironic end for something designed to develop ideas.
Most of the ended efforts aren’t missed. I was intrigued by Google Wave, but I like many I talked to never really found a use for the service that wasn’t done as well or better by existing products. Other lines that closed down were either outright failures (Buzz, Froogle), or never embraced in a meaningful way by anyone (Froogle, Coupons, Checkout). Some products weren’t complete failures, but have been quietly ended and rolled into other services (Video was absorbed by YouTube after Google’s purchase of the video site, Orkut is being absorbed by Google +).
Now Google has announced the ending of yet another service, but this one I will actually miss. Google’s homepage, iGoogle, has been marked for closure as of November 1 2013. Google announced this to iGoogle users via a banner announcement, explaining that their perceived need for a service like iGoogle has disappeared with the advent of their Chrome browser and Android operating system. The original concept was to offer users a comprehensive home page with personalized real-time information and interactive widgets, similar to Yahoo’s chaotic, busy-looking homepage. I chose iGoogle shortly after its launch for just that reason; the ability to tailor what news updates and interactive portals displayed was a strong draw, and when coupled with Google’s typically clean, uncluttered interface I was sold. Launching a browser allowed me to quickly peruse headlines in categories I find interesting, get a quick peek at new emails, and see if anyone I needed to chat with was online (via Google’s outstanding Talk instant message platform).
With iGoogle going the way of the dodo, I’m in a bit of a lurch. Granted, it isn’t closing shop soon, but as of today I have no adequate replacement for what iGoogle provided. Here’s to hoping that a competitor realized that there’s an unmet need in the market that they can fill.