Time for one last outburst of wailing and gnashing of teeth for the pending demise of Google Reader before I can put it behind me, and some retrospect for all the other failed products Reader will be joining in obscurity.
A recent article from Slate (courtesy of the best/most entertaining news aggregator online Fark) pays homage to the surprising number of discontinued services Google has spawned over the years. Quite a few (like Jaiku, Google Talk Chatback, and Google One Pass) I’d never heard of. Others such as Google Video were created to compete with a popular service, only to be retired when the competition (YouTube) was brought into the Google fold. So what gives- do so many failed ventures mean Google is on shaky innovative ground? Do they even know what they are doing?
Thankfully, the answer is of course they do. Google’s business strategy and corporate culture are both to blame for the many discontinued services and the fantastic innovation that has brought us the host of nearly invaluable services they offer. Creative chaos can be a powerful tool, and Google has long been celebrated for the working environment they have fostered for their staff. Unlike traditional business models, Google encourages staff to use productive company hours for “pet” projects, and doesn’t shy away from releasing beta projects to the public without extensive research, polishing, and planning. Much as Samsung has done with their handset lineup, Google often takes the ‘throw it all against the wall and see what sticks’ approach to services. While it sounds inelegant, it does provide a nurturing setting for creativity that other business models lack. They remain the web’s biggest provider of search and are a core component of almost everyone’s web experience, so you can hardly argue against such a successful track record.
Sadly, as Google matures they do have to make hard business decisions, and the end of Reader looms. Google hasn’t made public the factors behind the move; it could be an effort to funnel interest into Google Plus, their (to date not all that successful) Facebook competitor. It may very well be because usage of Reader has fallen, although from the public outcry I sincerely doubt it. Perhaps they just weren’t generating revenue from the platform and wanted to spend the resources devoted to it on other projects. Regardless of the true reason, I do admire Google for being able to offer so much to their user base for my favorite price- FREE.