Google Continues Mass Clearout
Written by Lucy Black   
Monday, 05 September 2011

As part of its re-focusing strategy Google has announced the imminent closure of a whole slew of products. Some are obvious candidates, others may come as a shock to loyal users. Is it a sign that autumn has set in at the company that used to have more green shoots of innovation than any other?

Google's "out with the old" campaign started with the "spring cleaning" of its APIs in May, next it announced its intention to close Google labs and now it has given closure notices (already acted on in some cases) for a mixed bag of products.

 

autumnforgoogle

Top of the list is Aardvark, the social search tool that it acquired 18 months ago. Nothing much, well more precisely nothing, appears to have happened to vark.com since it became part of Google and in their "Goodbye Aardvark" blog its founders appear not at all upset at this imminent shutdown. They are now part of the Google+ development team which is obviously a project with a future. Will Aardvark community be equally happy at the prospect of losing this service at the end of September.

Google Desktop is being discontinued even more quickly - it will no longer be available for download from September 14 and no new features or fixes will be issued. However this probably is neither a surprise or a particular blow to its users. Although it its time Google Desktop has had tens of millions of users it is a facility that is now outdated - and the fact has been gathering dust is evident from the fact that the penultimate entry on its blog bears the date July 2009 (support for 64-bit Windows and for Google Chrome) and the last update was in September 2008. One wonders what its developers have been doing lately and if any of them were still on the Desktop team September 14 cannot arrive quickly enough.

The web annotation tool SideWiki was launched less than 2 years ago. The reason given for its inclusion on the list seems to be that it has competition, Google says:

we've seen xtraordinary innovation in terms of making the web collaborative

This closure will be at some future, not-yet-specified date and users will be given a number of months to download their content.

In contrast, if you are one of the developers who has used Subscribed Links to create specialized search results you have less than two weeks to access and download your data - so let's hope no one is caught napping.

Google has a better solution for Notebook, a collaborative tool for sharing and publishing URL's. When it closes "in the coming months" data will automatically be exported to Google Docs.   

The stated reason for discontinuing the commercial product Google Web Security, acquired in 2007 along with Postini is that much of its functionality is now in other products. However, but existing customers will continue to be supported.

One seemingly innocuous closure is that of Google Pack, the website from which visitors could download and install a selection of third-party applications such as Skype and Adobe Reader is also on the list. It was instantly discontinued last Friday but visitors to its website will find links to alternative download locations. Another product on the closure list which probably won't provoke an outcry is Image Labeler - a fun game for adding labels to images.

However, a storm is brewing in the case of  the online news aggregator FastFlip. It has already been closed, and all that its left to show it existing is a growing number of disgruntled comments. 

 

As an external developer Google's clear out operation has made me uneasy. What started as a few neglected APIs being deprecated has in fact been a major overhaul and Google Labs will be missed by many. 

What must it be like on the inside?

Less than 6 months ago we ran a story about the "perk" of being able to run a startup within Google and referred to the Slide as an example of Google's policy of encouraging business units within the company to act as independent units. Slide is another of the casualties of the 2011 spring cleaning exercise with all but one of its projects (the survivor being a project in China) being abruptly closed last month with the departure of its leader, Max Levchin, who before founding Slide had founded PayPal.

And of course if you are looking for high profile leavers then contemplate James Gosling's departure last week after only five months with Google. Gosling's blog post about his career move doesn't indicate any hard feelings:

I had a great time at Google, met lots of interesting people, but I met some folks outside doing something completely outrageous, and after much anguish decided to leave Google.

but surely he could have found something interesting enough at Google not to be tempted away so easily?

So has Larry Page finished his drive for focus and prioritization or are there still shocks in store?

The Google of today certainly feels different from the Google of only a few months ago. Gone are the exciting days of new projects popping up all over the place and Google Labs leading the innovation on the web. Gone are the days when Google offered some new amazing API for doing something you never thought of every few weeks and for free.

It certainly seems to be autumn at Google. The frightening part is wondering when winter might be about to strike.

autumnforgoogle

More information:

Google blog post - A fall spring clean

Related news:

Google drops App Inventor
Google dumps APIs
Google Labs to close
Another Google perk - your own startup ?

 

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