Why have so many Google projects and products failed?

History is littered with failed Google projects, reflecting the hit-and-miss nature of investing in new technologies

Friday, 30 April, 2021

Over the years, Google has transformed our lives.

Its name has become a proprietary eponym for using search engines, while it owns the world’s two biggest search platforms – Google itself and its YouTube subsidiary.

Gmail has become the default free email package, and the Pixel 5 is one of the best Android smartphones ever launched.

Indeed, Google also owns Android, which is a distant cousin of the Chrome OS platform used on Chromebooks.

Then there’s the Chrome web browser, Maps, Drive, Blogger…the list goes on.

However, there’s an even longer list of failed Google projects, which deservedly attract less attention.

And although some of the company’s unsuccessful products were a result of unforeseeable events, others were doomed well in advance.

Set to fail

The obvious place to start in any list of failed Google projects is Google+.

Launched seven years after Facebook, without any existing user base to build on, Google+ lacked the user-friendly interface that made its rival so successful.

It barely made a ripple in the UK, while slow loading times meant consumers with accounts on both platforms spent 140 times longer on average using Facebook than Google+.

Indeed, Google’s history of social platforms is comically bad. Remember Orkut, Buzz, Talk, Spaces, Allo or Messages?

Hangouts was eventually assimilated into the G Suite utility portfolio, but every other attempt at launching a social or communications platform met an ignominious end.

It was equally hard to see why ecommerce businesses would sign up to Google Catalogs (American spelling) rather than using their own product catalogue apps.

Knol was a fairly unsubtle Wikipedia clone that never really got off the ground, while the Second Life-aping Lively was killed off less than six months after launching.

Killed by progress

Other failed Google projects were consigned to history by changing user behaviour or evolving technology, rather than any inherent flaws in their design.

Google Gears spent four years enabling web-based apps to run offline before HTML5 (literally and metaphorically) rendered it redundant.

Google Now’s fledgling one-way voice support ultimately ceded to the superior Google Assistant, while Panoramio’s geo-tagged photos were surpassed by Google’s Local Guides.

A number of unsuccessful projects also went on to enjoy a happier life under different names, like the pre-Analytics Urchin, the pre-Photos Picasa, or the pre-YouTube Google Video.

Ahead of its time

Finally, some Google schemes were so forward-thinking, people simply couldn’t see the merit in them at the time.

Google Ride Finder was killed off in 2009, years before Uber revolutionised the concept of personal vehicle hire.

The short-lived Nexus Q died in 2013, not long before Amazon’s Alexa spearheaded the concept of virtual assistants.

And Google Glass was a foresighted attempt at hands-free augmented reality, which has recently been resurrected as AR continues to bang on the door of mainstream acceptance.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!