free html hit counter Google Also Is Closing Any Number of Other Projects... - John Battelle's Search Blog

Google Also Is Closing Any Number of Other Projects…

By - January 14, 2009

Like Dodgeball, Google Video Uploads, Jaiku, and Google Catalog, and … I am not keeping track. But this is the evidence of Sergey’s comment months ago that Google was doing too much…

In any case, I think the spin Google gave on Google Catalog’s closing is a bit …. well it’s spin. We all do it. Let’s revisit the launch of Google Catalog, courtesy Danny’s SEW, which was deep into reporting mode when Catalog launched. (Danny has moved on to SEL).

My first thought upon seeing the service was “Why?” Of all the things Google could choose to make searchable, why target mail order catalogs? Shopping-oriented searches do make up a significant chunk of any search engine’s queries, so launching some type of shopping search service does make sense. But why not instead target online merchant stores?

The answer from Google is that mail order catalogs provide more comprehensive product listings than can be found online and that making catalogs searchable was something it could do easily.

“A number of people [at Google] thought offline catalogs are much better than online shopping sites,” said Urs Hvlzle, Google Fellow and member of Google’s executive management team.

Explaining further, Hvlzle said a major drawback to print catalogs is that you generally only have a few in your home and there’s no way to easily “search” within them. Google Catalogs solves this by letting you search through a virtual library of catalogs.

I guess not many folks really wanted to do that, given that the web itself, in a way, is already “a virtual library of catalogs.” Back in 2002, however, it was arguable that there was way more structured product data in catalogs than there was on the web. Now, well, not so much.

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8 thoughts on “Google Also Is Closing Any Number of Other Projects…

  1. Luis says:

    Google will have to pass through a process to optimize ROI and this will probably mean reinvigorate core and profitable activities and moving out from others.

    I am of the opinion that most activities of google (in terms of pure numbers) are not really profitable as a business right now.



  2. Google has had it’s share of failures too.. But who hasn’t?? Most of those “lab” projects will never take off…. But they are so proud of them. It’s their babies.. Right on.

    It’s a business at the end of the day and they need to focus on how to create products and provide services that are useful that will earn revenues.

    I am amazed that they launched some of the products that they have… Hahehheh. I’d be personally ashamed to even talk about them if I was involved with em.

    Live and learn 🙂



  3. JG says:

    wannadevelop: Yes, of course. Everyone has had their share of failures. All of us do. And that fact, by itself, is not worthy of note.

    What does strike me about this is the fact that Google claimed to be different. They took a very, very interesting attitude toward research and development. And they talked about it, publicly and explicitly, many times over the years. They said, in effect, that they were not going to do “traditional” research, in the style of Bell Labs or Xerox PARC. That type of research, they said, was too divorced from the real needs of consumers. It was too long-term in its thinking, too separate from reality.

    Instead, Google claimed that they were going to carve out a brave new world, in which research was tied directly and immediately to products which were constantly being delivered into the hands of consumers, and constantly being evaluated and updated. Furthermore, research and innovation was going to no longer be the exclusive domain of an elite priesthood of PhDs. Instead, research and innovation was going to be done, ongoingly, by everyone, in their 20% time.

    By switching to this new model of research, one that was tightly coupled with products that consumers were using every day, Google was going to avoid the pitfalls of classic-style, elite PhD research.

    Well, how has it turned out?

    To me, it does not appear to be a resounding failure. It also does not appear to be a resounding success. It appears to basically have about the same success rate as those “old dinosaur” companies engaged in elite research. Google has a small handful of successful products, and a long tail of other projects and product, that, despite the close coupling between research, innovation, consumer feedback, and 20% time, have really gone nowhere.

    Just like any other company. Just like any other old school company.

    So to me, the most interesting thing about all these projects that Google is now closing isn’t so much the fact that projects fail. Everyone has projects that fail. It is more that their closure signifies a referendum on this brave new style of research.

    And the verdict is that, despite all the hype, it really is no better than old school, elitist, Bell Labs/PARC-ish research. It might not be worse.. but so what? The promise is that it was supposed to be better. It does not appear to be. And that’s the real, interesting underlying story here.

  4. Ajans says:

    Yeap ! :

    “It appears to basically have about the same success rate as those “old dinosaur” companies engaged in elite research. Google has a small handful of successful products, and a long tail of other projects and product, that, despite the close coupling between research, innovation, consumer feedback, and 20% time, have really gone nowhere.”

  5. Curtis says:

    Heck, I feel like I’m entering a virtual catalog every time I do a search at Google for a retail-type product. We’ve always had the right-side column of sponsored links, but they’re now increasingly plastering their ‘shopping results for _____’ into the main search results column; sometimes at the top, sometimes a little further down. They’re forcing a different type of virtual catalog on us, without calling it as such.

  6. This not a surprise to many. Most companies are in cut back mode now.

  7. JG says:

    Curtis: What you are seeing, with your retail-oriented searches, is exactly why Google should start innovating on their search engine and offer some form of interaction or relevance feedback. Your search got you the information that you wanted; the only problem is that it was mixed up in a list with a lot of retail results. You probably wanted to find information about the product; Google wanted to show you places to buy the product.

    I commented about this, on Battelle’s blog, almost exactly two years ago. I think it’s still relevant today, just as it was relevant 10 years ago when Google was also *not* working on implementing it:

  8. Ödev says:

    Google has said over and over that users are lazy, that user’s do not want to do a lot of work when searching. Relevance feedback is perfect for that! Rather than forcing the user to think really hard and come up with a new set of query terms, relevance feedback allows the user simply to say “I like this link” and “I don’t like that link”. That’s it.