Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Google closes yet more products

Google has been one of the biggest innovators on the World Wide Web. It was the first company to bring a search engine that actually worked, brought about despite being dismissed by other companies in its early days. But from a search engine Google has constantly reinvented itself and brought new tools for millions of Internet users. While Google's search engine has survived the test of time, other projects have not fared so well. This autumn Google has decided to have a clear out and shut down several underused and antiquated services. Although some will not be missed there will be some cries of dismay as Google streamlines its online offerings.

Google has said it is to drop Aardvark, Google Desktop, Fast Flip, Google Maps API for Flash, Google Pack, Google Web Security, Image Labeler, Google Notebook, Sidewiki, and Subscribed Links which will all be shut down over the next few months.

They are the latest services to be dropped by the search engine giant which has already announced the closing down of other online applications. A year after launch Google Wave, billed at the time as the next step for email, was unceremoniously dropped from Google's portfolio. When Wave began it was available only to developers, then by invite only. But within months of it being available to everyone with a Gmail account Google announced it was to stop any further development. At present it is still accessible, though it is unclear for how much longer.

Google Health is another service being retired, though a date has been already been set for January 2012. Launched as a way for Google account holders to store health records and share them with health professionals, the service was launched in 2008. However Google has decided uptake was not significant enough to keep it going. "We've observed that Google Health is not having the broad impact that we hoped it would," Google said in a blogpost which also gave notice to PowerMeter which had been intended as a way of monitoring energy consumption from anywhere online. There some alternatives available to both PowerMeter and Google Health but it would mean setting up accounts with other enterprises.

With the demise of yet more Google services some users might be concerned over how safe their cloud data is. Google has facilitated the downloading and easy transfer to other services of user data, but it can be time consuming for those who have built up a large amount of information or files. When Google recently shut up shop on Google Video they initially offered only the facility of downloading videos stored on the service. However a backlash resulted in Google offering a simple way of transferring the content to the Google owned YouTube.

The latest selection of services to be resign to the bin will perhaps have less impact, but some will be missed. Google often blames poor user response as one of the reasons why it closes products, but the company itself could be blamed for failing to advertise the services. How many regular Internet users will have heard of Aardvark for example? The  social search service connects users live with friends or friends-of-friends who are able to answer their questions, also known as a knowledge market. Users would submit questions via the Aardvark website, email or instant messenger and Aardvark identifies and facilitates a live chat or email conversation with one or more topic experts in the asker's extended social network. While its usefulness might have been diminished by people's opting for general Google searches and Yahoo Answers the lack of publicity has obviously had an effect in the lack of take-up.

Fast Flip, launched in 2009, allowed users to flick through web content in a manner similar to a magazine. At launch, there were 39 mainly US-based news partners with Google sharing the majority of revenue from contextual adverts with its news partners. During its short life Fast Flip was praised for allowing visual, fast and serendipitous browsing of news stories, but it was also equally criticized as being a novelty, and anachronistic, as it emulated print media, had limited navigation and presented few news sources. The site is already inaccessible.

Google Maps API for Flash, Image Labeler, Google Notebook, Sidewiki, and Subscribed Links may not be missed but Google Pack and Google Desktop may be the subject of derision amongst some. As regards Google Pack many of the products contained within the package can be downloaded separately, however it did offer users a simple way of obtaining some must have applications in one easy download. Although there have been concerns over security and privacy Google Desktop provides an easy way allow text searches of a user's e-mails, computer files, music, photos, chats, Web pages viewed, and other "Google Gadgets". The executable file is still available though not for much longer.

This year also saw the end of Google's property search within its Maps, again citing lack of use. However its closure and that of other applications seems to be more about saving money or increasing profits. Of course Google claims they still want to improve search for the billions of its users and rarely mention profit. In a blogpost the company says they will continue to "devote more resources to high impact products—the ones that improve the lives of billions of people." As it does so it takes some tools away which affect many millions of others [ZDNet].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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