Google Cleans House

When Larry Page decides to clean house at Google, he doesn’t believe in half measures. On top of news that lots of Google Labs projects are falling by the wayside, this week saw a lot more items on the chopping block. Keep reading to find out what’s being sacrificed for the sake of improving Google’s focus.

Just in case you’re coming to the party late, Google announced in late July that it would be shutting down Google Labs itself, an area of the search engine’s website where visitors could check out (read: play with) a number of different projects and features that Google’s engineers had created. These were still in the experimental stage, but periodically a project would “graduate” and become a full-fledged service, such as personalized search.

So with Google Labs closing, what would become of its projects? It is expected that Page will graduate some projects and ax others. Indeed, Google Labs projects slated for shutdown or already shut down include image search tool Image Swirl; JavaScript testing tool Sputnik; App Inventor for Android, a tool that lets non-programmer build Android apps (Google says that it will open the tool’s source code, however); Breadcrumb, a mobile app developer tool; and Script Converter, a transliteration tool. Also gone or going are Google Squared, Google News Timeline, City Tours, and Realtime Mytracks.

So what are the latest projects on the chopping block, and what’s surviving? First, let’s look at what’s going. Google Fast Flip, launched in 2009, gave users a more visual, print-like way to read news on the web. Google notes in its blog post that Fast Flip’s “approach will live on in our other display and delivery tools,” but Fast Flip itself will be eliminated.

Google Sidewiki was an early experiment with social browsing. It let users comment on pages they’d visited, and read other users’ comments on the pages. To use Google Sidewiki, you installed the Google Toolbar and turned on “enhanced” features. Google says it has “decided to discontinue Sidewiki and focus instead on our broader social initiatives.” Probably translation: Google+ is more important. Google said it will be giving Sidewiki users “a number of months to download their content.”

Aardvark was purchased by Google early last year…and will now be shutting down at the end of this month. Originally created by former Google employees and named one of TIME’s best websites of 2009, Aardvark offered an intriguing question-and-answer service. When an Aardvark user asked a question, the service would search for the right person in the questioner’s network to give them an answer.

Google Desktop will be shutting down September 14. Google notes that people “now have instant access to their data, whether online or offline,” and since that was the whole point and goal of Google Desktop, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to keep it around.

Other projects either already shut down or slated for shutdown soon include Google Image Labeler, Google Pack, and Google Notebook. Google Maps API for Flash is being deprecated, but Google will still support some customers. Google Web Security will no longer be sold, but existing customers will still be supported; Google notes that it has incorporated many of the security features from the service into its other projects.

As Google discontinues these projects, it’s worth keeping in mind that the search giant maintained more than 50 of them in Google Labs. Some of them have been in Google Labs for years without ever graduating. It’s extremely hard to tell what will catch on and what won’t. As Matt McGee writing for Search Engine Land notes about the projects being shut down, “I can’t help but think how many times those of us inside the search industry thought some of these would ‘change the game’ in some way…But our perception and the reality of public adoption (or lack thereof) is often not the same.” After closing these projects, Google will be able to redirect its resources into improving services that more people will want to use.

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