Why does Google suicide itself?

Why does Google suicide itself?

Google is one of the wealthiest, companies in the world. I don’t want to imply, in the rest of this article, that Google is ‘unsuccessful’, but there are some things that I think are worth saying and which, from an outsider’s perspective, make no sense at all.

The Google of old

The original Google had a compelling product: the best search engine ever designed. The search engine has been improved over the years and, ultimately, that is still its core product. Advertising is where the money comes from, but that advertising rides mostly on search results.

But what about YouTube? you might ask. And you’d be right that YouTube is not really a search engine. As an acquisition by Google, it was an astoundingly good purchase. In 2006 Google paid $1.65 billion for YouTube – a lot of money – but made $29.2 billion from YouTube just last year (Source).

Back in 2004, Google launched Google Books (then called Google Print), and in 2005, Google Maps. These are still the backbone of Google today. If you think of Google, you likely think of Google’s search engine, Google Maps, YouTube, maybe Google Books, and Android.

One other highly successful product from Google is Google Cloud – its revenue is similar to YouTube’s. Shared computing that you can use from anywhere, to power your apps, software, or databases.

So, a quick timeline of early Google:

  • 1998 (or so): Google Search
  • 2003: AdSense
  • 2004:
    • Books
    • Gmail
  • 2005:
    • Maps
    • Android
  • 2006: YouTube
  • 2010: Google Cloud
  • 2011: Chromebooks

Since then, things have been very different. Google has tried and failed with multiple products. So many, in fact, that there is a website just listing Google’s cancelled products (Source), so I won’t reproduce that here. But some of these cancelled products, are indicative of their missteps as a company. A company, incidentally, that does not pay dividends to its shareholders, even today, 25 years and 4 days after its incorporation.

Missteps since 2011

In 2010, along with Google Cloud, Google also launched the Nexus range of phones and, later, tablets. Nexus phones were cheaper than comparable phones and may not have been a misstep. They were replaced in 2016, with the Pixel phones. One could argue reasonably that this was a continuation of the Nexus range with a different focus, and I could accept that. More on Pixel later.

The services that most people get upset about are these:

  • Google+
  • Hangouts
  • Play Music
  • Stadia

Stadia was astounding technologically but may not have been doing too well in terms of market share. I think this is for two reasons: First, no-one I knew, even nerds, had heard of Stadia. They saw my controllers hanging on the wall and asked what they were for. Second, Google already had a reputation for cancelling things, so large tracts of Reddit commenters would say, “Why bother, Google will only cancel it.” And they were right. The only thing that makes it forgivable is that they provided people with full refunds. Money I then used to buy an Xbox Series X and games.

The reputation Google has gained for cancelling products since 2011 harms its own new products. Google Buzz, Google Hangouts, Google+, Google Wave, Google SMS, they all require a critical mass of users in order to take off. If users see social products as having a limited life, they won’t leave WhatsApp or Signal, or persuade their friends to do those things, because there’s significant risk of having egg on your face when Google inevitably cancels it.

What is unforgiveable – and what triggered this post – is the recent cancellation of Pixel Pass only a month before one of its promised features was going to be available – phone upgrades. To cancel this product with so little warning is shocking, but sadly not surprising. It’s disrespectful of its customers in a way that the cancellation of Stadia was not. The Verge has a reasonable rant around the 7-minute mark in this video.

Why Google? Why?

Google had a track-record of making great products. The products they have cancelled – all of them – could not have cost too much in the grand scheme of things. More important, most of them had great potential if only they were stuck with, marketed, and invested in. To rebuild its reputation, Google will need to develop something new – something Stadia-like – and keep it for a very, very long time. At the same time, it will need to not cancel anything else. This seems very unlikely and while it continues, people will continue to see no value in Google’s ecosystem and jump to Microsoft (if they sort out their phone issue), Samsung (if they sort out their issues), or Apple (for people who can afford their devices).

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