It’s no big secret that Google has a pesky little habit of, y’know, cold-blooded murder.
You know what I’m talking about, right? Everyone’s favorite Android keeper has had more than a few instances of giving us some promising new product, selling us wholeheartedly on its commitment to said product and its lofty visions for its future — and then, once we’ve all become thoroughly invested in adopting said service and integrating it fully into our lives, changing its tune and abandoning the thing entirely.
Now, there are obviously two sides to this story. Google is ultimately a business, after all, and it only makes sense for a business to direct its resources toward the assets that have the most potential to generate revenue and align with long-term strategic goals. (I just lost 2% of my soul for typing the phrase “long-term strategic goals,” by the way. That’s how committed I am to you.)
But at the same time, when your willingness to tout a product one moment and turn your back on it the next becomes a groan-inducing vulnerability — a reason for every one of your launches to be accompanied by a hint of skepticism and an only slightly joking sense of “so when’s Google gonna kill this?” — well, that’s a problem. As I put it a year ago, when your fickleness becomes a punchline, it’s a sign you’ve failed to follow through a little too often.
To be sure, plenty of Google’s killed products go largely unnoticed — or at least largely unmourned. I mean, is anyone losing sleep over the loss of Allo, Google Jump, or Google Bulletin? They were all unceremoniously slaughtered in 2019. (Allo, I’d argue, is the perfect example of a service not catching on in part because of Google’s reputation for failing to commit to new services. As for the other two, did anyone even remember that they’d existed?!)
But three services decimated this past year are tough to forget and even tougher to let go. It’s not necessarily because we still actively miss them or have yet to find suitable replacements but more because they represented hints of the best of Google — the company’s ability to create thoughtful, carefully crafted products that shatter the status quo in their respective areas and fill voids we didn’t even realize existed — and also the worst of Google, with the company’s pattern of convincing us to go all in on something and then quietly moving on when its interests shift.
These are the Google services killed in 2019 whose murders still sting.
1. Google Inbox
- Born: October 2014
- Killed: April 2019
- Described at launch as: “designed for the problems we’re going to see in the next 10 years.”
- Described at death as: “a great place to experiment with new ideas” that no longer fit into Google’s “more focused approach.”
Of all the services Google’s offed lately, Inbox may be the biggest letdown of all. When it launched, Inbox wasn’t actually all that great — I was among the many who tried it and then went back to Gmail in those earliest days — but there was something worthwhile to the service, a seed of inspiration that just needed to be nurtured. At Inbox’s core was the idea for something different, for a ground-up reinvention of an area that was (and kind of still is) desperately begging for a fresh start.
To its credit, in Inbox’s early years, Google was committed. The company put out update after impressive update, adding in missing elements and coming up with one clever feature after another. By nine months into its life, Inbox had gotten really flippin’ good. And the concepts it created — from the reframing of the inbox to an all-purpose to-do list, complete with integrated reminders and saved articles, to the introduction of a staggered, batch-like delivery system to increase efficiency and keep less important messages from interrupting us constantly — truly had the potential to reshape email’s role in our lives.
A few of those concepts made their way into Gmail, and the dorkier devotees among us (hi!) have found ways to bring some of the other elements into our post-Inbox inboxes — but it’s hard not to see the demise of Inbox as also representing the end of Google’s ambitious effort to reinvent email at a foundational level.
After all the grand promises and the “this is the future”-style statements, having that entire effort fizzle away with barely a blip is a damn shame to see.
- Born: June 2011
- Killed: April 2019
- Described at launch as: “the future of Google” — something that “isn’t like an experiment” and is something the company is committed to “for the long run.”
- Described at death as: “better suited as an enterprise product where co-workers can engage in internal discussions on a secure corporate social network.”
Ah, Google+. Has there ever been any other Google service at the center of such a strong sell?
Google told us G+ was, in the words of one of its product managers, something Google was 100% “betting on” — something that wasn’t like the Google-made social efforts before it, which were rapidly written off and left behind, and instead something that was, quite literally, the future of the company.
“If obstacles arise, we’ll adapt,” he said.
Yeah. So much for that.
Google+ may have been niche-oriented in its longer-term appeal, and the intensity with which Google tried to shove the service down everyone’s throat in the beginning almost certainly played a role in its tepid reception. But those of us who took the time to find communities within G+’s virtual walls uncovered a refreshing answer to the hells other social networks offered — a place uniquely suited to indulging one’s geekiest interests and interacting with others who shared those very same passions without all the usual nonsense and noise.
As I wrote in my farewell to the service (which I can’t link to, since, y’know, the service is gone):
In G+’s early days, even with the ever-present (and woefully misguided) narrative of it being a “ghost town” from those who didn’t put in the time to get to know it, these virtual halls felt alive. The Googlers behind the effort were familiar names and faces who interacted with us regularly and kept us apprised on the service’s ongoing evolution. It felt like we were a part of something special, and the excitement established by the folks steering the ship was infectious. It really set the tone for what this community was in those early years.
At a certain point, we all felt the tides turn. Google stopped caring about G+ and started treating it as a low-priority obligation instead of a happening and a cause for excitement. While the lights didn’t go out until this past April, Google+ really died months earlier, when Google gave up.
The worst part, for anyone who took the time to get to know Google+, is the knowledge that it could’ve been something great.
3. Google Trips
- Born: September 2016
- Killed: August 2019
- Described at launch as: “a personalized tour guide in your pocket.”
- Described at death as: something Google was “saying goodbye to,” with certain features set to “live on in other Google products.”
Trips may not have had the same high profile as the other items in this list, but anyone who used the service knows just how promising and valuable it was. Trips worked hand-in-hand with Inbox to compile automated itineraries for upcoming journeys, using confirmation emails and receipts to identify the details. It then organized them into easily managed and shared bundles that lived within its dedicated app.
Trips’ remains have been scattered here and there — with some pieces now residing in a Google Travel website and some being available as an out-of-the-way area of Maps — but when you look at those offerings compared to a polished and fully featured travel organization tool like TripIt, it’s painfully clear that Google gave up on its ambitions to create something uniquely significant and instead settled on cramming the basics into a dusty corner for anyone who happens to stumble onto ’em.
The practical loss isn’t enormous; I’ve happily shifted back to TripIt for my own travel organization and would wholeheartedly point anyone else in the same direction. And in the long run, maybe it’s better to have an independent company thriving and continuing to offer new ideas and improvements in areas like this.
But still, it’s impossible not to think about what could have been if Google had followed through and maintained its initial ambition with Trips instead of giving up, letting it stagnate, and then quietly allowing it to fade away.
Farewell, old friends. Your virtual presence may be over, but your memories — and the memories of your about-faced abandonments following such promising beginnings — won’t soon be forgotten.
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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]
Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.