6 min read

The internet is abuzz with discussions of popular (and sometimes short-lived) Google products that the company has killed. The conversation has recently been kickstarted by Killed by Google, and Google Cemetry, which provided an ‘obituary’ of dead Google products and services last week.

Google has always been enthusiastic about venturing into new fields. That’s one of the crucial reasons for its success. Taking risks on new products is inevitably going to produce a share of martyrs, but it’s the price you pay to establish new products.

Most importantly, none of these ‘dead’ products have vanished completely. There always a strong alternative that Google is investing in. Many of these dead products are actually an important step towards something better and more successful. Those that do die, have either reached EOL (if hardware based) or are rebranded/merged with an existing product or split into a separate Alphabet company.

But why does Google kill products?

Dead products are really just a by-product of innovation. For Google to move quickly as a business – to compete with the likes of Amazon – it needs to try new things, and, by the same token, stop things when they’re not working out.

While no one likes to fail, in Silicon Valley, failing fast has become a well-known philosophy. Dead products, that once seemed cutting-edge products lay the groundwork for better, more well-timed ideas that flourish later. Failure can lead to success – maybe even something world-changing. Like an experiment gone awry, they teach companies more about technology and how people want to use it.

Google likes to ignore the market and see what surprises users

Google’s strategy has always been to avoid getting hung up on paying less attention to market research. By doing market research a company tries to design and launch a product that fits with people’s expectations – in general, a good idea, especially if you can’t afford investing in something that’s a risk. Google, on the other hand, with the astonishing amount of capital at its disposal,  can almost skip this altogether. If they have a bright, smart idea, they just put it in the market for people to test and see.

This was done with Google Tez, which was a mobile payments service by Google that was targeted at users in India. Since launching the app, over 55 million people have downloaded the app and more than 22 million people and businesses actively use the app for digital transactions every month. This was an instant signal to Google that the app may have done better if it was given a universally-accepted name. Tez was killed almost 3 months ago and rebranded to Google Pay. They now have a unified global payments services with what it had built for India.  

Deceased Google products with a second life under a new brand name

Here are a few more examples of what Google has demolished and subsequently rebranded:

  • On September 16, 2014, it was announced that Google intended to close Panoramio and migrate it to Google Maps Views.
  • Google News & Weather is a news aggregator application developed by Google. On May 8, 2018, Google announced that it was merging Google Play Newsstand and Google News & Weather into a single service, called Google News.
  • Google Allo is an instant messaging mobile app by Google. It will be rebranded as Google Chat. It was killed 7 months ago. P
  • Project Tango was an API for augmented reality apps that was killed and replaced by ARCore.

Sometimes, poor products are the problem

While some Google products simply needed better branding, there are plenty of examples of projects that were terminated simply because they weren’t good enough. This is often down to engineering mistakes (bugs) or a lack of user engagement.

Google stated that the primary reason for retiring Picasa was that it wanted to focus its efforts “entirely on a single photos service” the cross-platform, web-based Google Photos. Over the past decade, the growth of Facebook, YouTube, Blogger, and Google+ have outpaced Orkut’s. Google decided to bid Orkut farewell and shut it down. On April 20, 2015, Google officially shut down Helpouts stating that the service hadn’t, “grown at the pace we had expected.” Most recently, In October 2018, Google announced that it was shutting down Google+ for consumers, citing low user engagement and a software error.

Surprisingly, lists such as these have had the exact opposite effect than what was intended by the creators. People support Google for rebranding their projects. A hacker news user said, “This list actually had the opposite intended effect on me. Yeah, Google Reader should have stuck around. But half of these I’ve either never heard of or only faintly remember. And the ones I do remember seem like reasonable axes.

Google Video, for example, seemed to serve the sole purpose of making me think “dammit, why doesn’t the ‘Video’ tab just take me to YouTube?” So Google’s huge and had to cut off some redundant services over the years. So what. In view of privacy violations, military tech collaborations, and so on, EOL-ing a couple dozen services is hardly a cardinal sin.

However, the downside of retiring products is that there will always be someone who is unhappy. Even if a product isn’t widely used, there will always be some people that like the product, maybe have even grown to love it. Like a breakfast radio show, people form habits around a product’s’ UI and overall experience. They become comfortable.

Some people have argued that Google has killed stuff on a whim. Google Reader, url shortner, code search, Picasa, were all cited as examples of things that the company should not have shut down.  

Here are some of the reactions of people on Hacker News.

Other day I was looking to buy a movie and it was available on Amazon as well as YouTube, I went to Amazon because YouTube feels much more likely to shut down it’s movie business on a whim while Amazon will likely fight out to last moment. Same goes for buying music.

Even after 5+ years, I still miss Google Reader almost every day. Just pure simplicity and tight community around sharing are yet to be matched in my opinion. The web has moved on and as someone commented here, it’s walled garden everywhere now.

Read more of this conversation on Hacker News.

Dead products can teach us a lot about the priorities of businesses, and maybe even something about the people that use them – people like us. Ultimately, however, dead products are the waste product of philosophy of growth: as business looks to expand into new markets, some products are probably going to get the chop.

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