Google, bless ’em, officially launched +1 this week and the press is already labelling it a Facebook killer. Will this new stab at a product launch be a success? Or will it fall to the wayside like the ill-fated Buzz, Wave, Answers and the much loved but easily replaceable Videos?
What will make +1 a success where other products have so recently failed? I don’t know and wouldn’t like to guess – the only thing I can do is look back at these recent Google flops and find out how such an innovative and HUGE company could get it so wrong.
What went wrong?
In my opinion, none of the aforementioned products were inherently bad, they were just mismanaged. Some may have been flawed from the start and grossly miscommunicated but they were never really given the chance to evolve before being thrown aside and their resources placed elsewhere.
Lets take a look at this rouges gallery and see where they went wrong and in some cases, what could have been:
What went wrong with Buzz?
Google Buzz was essentially a proof-of-concept that was thrown together by Google employees to see if they could bring Twitter-style messages to Gmail – guess what? They could! So they did. But it was rushed to market and because of this a shit-storm erupted around privacy (or lack of).
But the REAL problem with Buzz was – nobody wanted it. Everyone who cared about microblogging at the time was already knee-deep in Twitter and didn’t want to leave. Google had a simple solution, link your Twitter accounts TO Buzz – which is what I did – ultimately making it just another useless social feed.
How could Buzz be saved?: Now, if Buzz was sold as a social aggregation and augmentation tool from the start it maybe would have been a success. I could happily see Buzz hooking into Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn and even apps like Google Reader and Delicious to pull everything together in a single place – useful? I think so? Will it happen? No.
What went wrong with Wave?
Ah Wave! My favourite of the Google flops, why? Because I still have no idea what it was meant to do. I was blessed with a Wave invite not long after launch and probably spent no more than 7 minutes checking out the UI before shrugging and getting back to work. I mean, what was this thing? It wasn’t obvious? Some sort of email collaborate email, work-flow, document and task system right? Wrong, well sort of.
To help explain this confusion further here is one of many descriptions of Wave features (via Wikipedia):
Waves, described by Google as “equal parts conversation and document“, are hosted XML documents that allow seamless and low latency concurrent modifications
How could Wave be saved?: Its too late, the Wave platform lives on as the open source ‘Apache Wave‘ but its still a useless product with a small uptake – however, what if Wave had evolved into a Basecamp-style project management tool with SharePoint like online document management and One Hub style workspaces and widgets all linked into your Gmail inbox and contact list?
Sounds pretty damn cool right! HELL YEH! WHERE DO I SIGN UP! But no 🙁 this never happened.
What went wrong with Answers?
Answers was a decent enough idea – real ‘quality’ answers to specific questions at a small price (a few dollars per-query). Think of it as eBay for questions. It worked very well for the period it was open and gathered a lot of useful content. But, it was a playground for lazy plagiarists and needed to be continually policed for bad-Answers and copyright infringements.
How could Answers be saved?: It doesn’t need to be. The idea lives on though sites likeg Yahoo! Answers and Mahalo with sites such as the infamous Experts Exchange and the new-kid Stack Exchange serving a similar product but to a more niche market. The Answers methodology is alive and well, I just don’t think Google had the stomach for it.
What went wrong with Videos?
Google Videos was YouTubes biggest competitor until Google bought them out – but for many (me included) Google Videos was a very different beast. It was less about ‘user generated content’ like piano playing cats and skateboarding dogs – the stuff that makes YouTube legend – and more about quality full-length online video.
I remember Google Videos being a dumping ground for excellent documentaries, training videos and even full-length movies. Sure, YouTube may have also had these hidden away under all the junk, but that wasn’t the point – the You in YouTube was all about your own videos, made by You and it still is today – even with the vast commercial changes.
How could Videos be saved?: By going back to the original strategy of digitizing offline content and publishing a high-quality, curated database of essential historic and educational video content. Things we can’t find on YouTube or anywhere else, things no one would even think to upload. Old movies, historic speeches, world news events, stuff like that.
This of course won’t happen – Google Videos has already been neutered and no new content is set to be added. Google are focused on making YouTube their only video service.
Flops Products on the way!
So what else do Google have on the way after +1? Well, we have Google Music, which is currently in BETA and the Groupon-killing Google Offers. Both potential world beaters, if managed correctly. Both major embarrassments if not.
So that’s it – a brief look at recent Google slip-ups. But please, not NOT misunderstand this post – I love Google, I really do. Gmail/Andriod/Chat/Maps/Search they are all great products but I’m always let down by their attempts to do something new. They just seem to be letting themselves down time and time again and the negative PR-fallout is getting out-of-hand.
My final word is that I just really, really hope the recent management changes will finally get them back on track so they can compete with Apple for music and entertainment and Facebook for social (sorry Microsoft).