Google is one of the most ubiquitous names in the tech world, so everyone pays attention and many people secretly love it when one or more of the company’s efforts goes down in flames. How often does Google fail? Back in October, The Next Web set the ratio at a little more than one-third of the time.
On one hand, it’s hard to really feel bad for Google, who has a core search business so powerful and iconic that “Googling” has been in the vernacular for some time now. And of course there’s Android, Gmail, Maps, and YouTube – okay, that last one was an acquisition, but one that has thrived under Google’s ownership. Hey, someday it may even be profitable.
Even with products with less of a clear-cut win, Google consistently demonstrates innovation and long-term thinking. From Google X to Google+, there’s a commitment to putting the best minds together and developing ideas even when consumer and media eyes look elsewhere. And don’t call me biased just because I’m writing this in Docs using the Chrome browser while trying not to be distracted by my Droid 3….
Okay, enough with the objective praise. Now let’s look at how often, and how dismally, Google fails.
● Answers. There is no answer at this time, which is a shame. Unlike the automated or crowdsourced approach of AskJeeves, Answers.com, or Yahoo! Answers, the Google Answers service put quality researchers to work replying to specific questions (for a sometimes sizable fee). But why single out Google? MSN/ Windows Live QnA never even made it past beta.
● Checkout. How much does PayPal really hate Google? Hard to say, but when Google Checkout went head-to-head with the eBay subsidiary, things got very ugly. Google blinked first, and Checkout never fully recovered (a horrible reputation for support doesn’t help, either). And after a recent lawsuit by PayPal over Google’s new mobile-focused Wallet project, we’ll keep a space on the fail list open.
● Orkut. Why do some social networks thrive while others fail? Hard to say. But Google has a reputation for failing at social, and Orkut is the poster child. Despite success in Brazil and India (not to mention Pakistan and Estonia), Orkut is not exactly a household name. Maybe it’s the spam, malware, privacy issues, hate groups, awkward or missing features … nah, none of these things have kept Facebook from being No. 1.
● Wave. One might expect anything with so many Firefly references to get nerd approval, critical acclaim, and then be killed off before most people even knew it existed. Such is the fate of Google Wave, a unique hybrid real-time online collaborative communications framework (whew — in short, another social fail). But never fear, Wave (kinda) lives on in the form of the Apache Wave project.
● Buzz. Did we say “fail at social?” Not once, not twice, but many times, including this Gmail add-on that tried to add Twitter-like features (but not as much as Jaiku, yet another Google social fail), and mostly just added privacy concerns and user confusion.
● Nexus One. Google’s mobile OS became a surprise smash hit; Google’s mobile phone did not. Carriers and customers alike greeted the Nexus One with a halfhearted “meh,” and the only big gains Google saw were in the downgrading of analysts’ sales expectations.
● Lively. A description is probably necessary, as almost nobody has even heard of Google’s embarrassingly slavish version of Second Life. When it’s no longer enough to fail at social, you must immerse yourself in failing at social in a virtual 3D environment. At least Lively attained the distinction of being the fastest fail in Google’s history.
● Dodgeball. Having failed at social and at mobile (for the time being), Google failed at putting them together by buying Dodgeball. The idea was a good one, but the founders got sick of Google’s BS and formed Foursquare, which did quite well (hey, the President likes it). And now Google is using its newfound mobile success to resurrect the idea with Latitude.