Google's Product Failures (Updated 2018) / by Lewis Lin

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Here’s my list of Google product failures:

  • Google Wave. It could have been Slack.
  • Orkut. It could have been Facebook.
  • Google+. It could have been Snapchat or WhatsApp.
  • Google Hangouts on Air. It could have been Facebook Live or Periscope.
  • Google Answers. It could have been Quora.
  • Google Catalog Search. It could have been Pinterest.
  • Dodgeball. It could have been FourSquare or related social networking site.
  • Google Notebook. It could have been Evernote.
  • Google Page Creator. It could have been Squarespace.
  • Google Video. It wasn’t YouTube.
  • Google Glass. It should have waited until it was Google Contact Lens before it launched in the consumer market.
  • Google Knol. There’s plenty of information that can be Wiki-fied like developer documentation for open-source projects. Cloning Wikipedia was not the first thing that needed to be Wiki-fied.

Why did these products fail?

It’s not so much that the Googlers were lazy or incompetent. I’m positive they were hard working and committed. It’s more that product design is so hard that even the best companies can’t succeed 100% of the time.

Craig Lawrence pushed me to think a bit harder as to why Google failed. Despite hard work and commitment, here are reasons why Google failed so often:

  1. Lack of vision. There are only so many people who can predict the future. Sundar Pichai was one of those rare individuals who saw the Chrome browser and Chromebook OS opportunity, despite daunting odds and endless customer naysaying.
  2. Lack of resources. When I was at Google, I believed Google Notebook had half an engineer working on it a few months out of the year. Hard to defend the fort if the guard tower is empty.
  3. Lack of insight. The Google Wave and Google Glass team worked hard, but both teams missed the critical insight that others realized. That is, Slack realized work messages belong to channels. And Google Glass was too dorky to wear in public.
  4. Lack of focus. Google+ included everything but the kitchen sink. It was an authentication service. And a commenting plug-in. And an address book. And a multi-user video conferencing feature. It felt and was designed by committee.
  5. Lack of trying. I believe Marissa Mayer once said, “There are great (product) ideas that are executed poorly.” In other words, we shouldn’t conclude an idea is flawed because it failed. After Google Answers shut down, it was wrong to conclude that the Internet didn’t want a Q&A service. It was more appropriate to conclude that Google Answers just implemented Q&A the wrong way.

What’s the best way to avoid product failure?

From an organizational perspective, the best solution I’ve seen is the spinoff.

I’ve seen Expedia achieve good success after it was spun off from Microsoft.

And Expedia, apparently having seen the spinoff tactic work successfully, helped TripAdvisor flourish by spinning them off as well.