Google has an enviable track record for new services it unleashes on the masses, but not all of its bets pay off. The company supplanted many industries and carved significant roles for itself in emerging businesses during the last 16 years, but there have still been rough patches and complete misses.
No company succeeds in all of its endeavors. However, when Google fails or decides to throw in the towel on one of its many projects there are often far reaching repercussions. It sometimes doesn’t matter if Google decides to sunset or shut down an underperforming product. Other times, when projects are left to die on the vine, companies that bet Google are left in the lurch.
Despite the company’s ascent to a household name brand, there are still many things Google can’t, hasn’t or chooses not to pursue. Companies that follow Google with too much misplaced admiration run the risk of making large bets on unproven concepts. IT managers and CIOs can learn valuable lessons from Google’s failed Wave (a collaboration tool), Buzz, Reader, Jaiku (a micro-blogging service), Dodgeball (the early Foursquare-like app from the same team), Authorship (a search product for publishers), Google+ and its other less-than-successful offerings. Google’s experiment with its Glass smartglasses stands out as a cautionary tale for enterprises.
When a company bets on a Google product, the investment can quickly backfire so it’s important to remember that Google is just as fallible as any other company. The Google name alone carries no guarantees. While Google and its employees may embrace the lessons that come with failure, smaller companies with fewer resources may not be able to afford to make such mistakes.
“Google has all the resources to do their ‘moon shots’,” says Joanan Hernandez, founder of the mobile augmented reality startup Mollejuo. “We don’t. It’s very easy for them to throw away money on experiments, but that’s not our case.”
Hernandez says he remains excited about those Google moon shots, but he’s also careful not to embrace everything that comes out of its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters.
Take Google Glass, for example, an aspirational project that seems to be in perpetual beta after missing its original plans for consumer release this year. “If Google doesn’t have the guts to publicly stand behind their product and release it as a consumer product, why should we?” says Hernandez. He still has a bad taste in his mouth because of the way Google treated its Wave social network and worries the same fate may hit the company’s smartglasses.
Glass suffered some setbacks beyond Google’s control, but the company hasn’t shown enough commitment to the project to outweigh Hernandez’s concerns. “It’s one thing to internally develop those products, it’s another to invite people to experiment with you. In the end, finances will get you sooner or later.”
If Google expects others to join the party, it must demonstrate a greater commitment, according to Hernandez. “Wearable electronic glasses will come, they’re inevitable, but whether they come from Google or another manufacturer remains to be seen.”
Glass a Microcosm of a Larger Google Problem
Nick Selby, a police detective and CEO of StreetCred Software, says he invested a “few thousand bucks” on Google Glass as a law enforcement tool before his team eventually decided it would never go anywhere. “All I got out of it was a very expensive paperweight and some snickering friends,” Selby says.
“A lot of companies were considering law enforcement applications for Glass,” Selby says. “Since our product ranks the likelihood of finding and capturing fugitives, and provides situational awareness for officers that can be easily expressed geospatially, our thought was that we might use Glass to project attributes onto buildings.”
Selby’s optimism toward Glass quickly diminished the minute he tried on a pair. “In our experience the technology both wasn’t ready and wouldn’t likely be ready for the kind of nuanced display and interactivity we would require to make this useful and cop-proof.”
However, Selby insists his experience with Glass won’t cloud his assessment of future Google products. “Google sets the innovation bar pretty high and no one succeeds without taking risks,” he says. “Innovators fail, it’s the nature of the beast … [Glass] didn’t work [for us], but that doesn’t mean that the concepts and some of the supporting technology Google created to solve problems trying to get Glass to work won’t one day change the world again.”