We (at Globe Tech HQ) are gathered here today to pay tribute to a dear friend who passed too soon.
Well, not a dear friend, really. More like a weird third-cousin who shows up to every family reunion carrying an obviously forged invitation.
We speak, of course, about Google Wave: the social networking software that was too beautiful for this world. Farewell, sweet Wave. There's no minimum user requirements where you're going.
Regular Globe Tech readers will have noticed by now that our Google Wave jokes so far have been somewhat generic. The reason for this is simple: We can't remember what the hell Google Wave was. Seriously. We remember calling Google frantically pleading for a beta invite like it was the last working life-raft on the Titanic; we remember writing story after story about all the services this thing was going to render obsolete ("Facebook-killer," "Twitter-killer," "Normal-Human-Interaction-Killer"...). But we just can't seem to remember what Google Wave was meant to be used for. We found our old beta invite under our desk the other day; it had sprouted mushrooms.
The Wikipedia page says Google initially called this thing "a new web application for real-time communication and collaboration."
Doesn't this sound like a mission statement for one of those shady Caribbean shell companies? "MobFront Inc. is committed to developing new services for synergy and dynamic tasking in an enterprise-centric environment."
In fairness, the reason Google's products sometimes crash and burn has a lot to do with the company's perpetual-Beta strategy. Unlike Apple, which locks its products up until they're fully done, Google constantly throws bizarre new ideas at the public wall to see what sticks. It's like if automakers actually let drivers take all those cool-looking concept cars out for a spin, with a caveat that every now and then, the engine might explode.
Anyway, Wave's demise got us to thinking about how we rarely get to pick on Google. It didn't take long to realize why: the company is really, really good at burying its mistakes.
That's why we grabbed our handy digital shovels and went corporate-fiasco grave-robbing. Hence, we present to you Google's five worst product failures.
One of the greatest things about Google is that it allows its employees to spend 20 per cent of their time working on whatever they feel like. Sometimes, these 20-per-cent-time projects result in sheer awesomeness (e.g. Gmail). Sometimes, they result in Lively.
Lively was a virtual world where users could build avatars and do whatever it is that people do in virtual worlds -- essentially, a Second Life clone. That's right, somebody took a look at Second Life, with its overabundance of characters, structures and entire cities shaped in the likeness of human genitalia, and thought: "We need more of this!"
Lively made its debut in July of 2008, and lasted until the end of that year. Going by the promotional video on the site, Lively looked a lot like a cross between the Sims and a very mild acid trip. Which is to say, it looked like every online virtual world ever made.
2. Google Coupons:
Some of our readers are too young to remember the Wild West days of the Internet, back in 2006. Let us refresh your memory: "Rhythm is a Dancer" was the biggest radio hit in the world, all the cool kids surfed the web on their 9.6k modems, and the hottest fad around was paper coupons. Before you dispute this version of history, ask yourself why Google launched a print coupon service in 2006.
The idea was good enough: people would search their neighbourhoods for services on Google Maps, and coupons for various nearby services would pop up on the screen. There were only two problems: no businesses used the feature and nobody prints out coupons any more. Personally, we blame business owners for not taking advantage of this opportunity. If there's one thing people love, it's printers... and printing things... and then cutting them out... for a 10 per cent discount on a medium pepperoni pizza.
3. The Nexus One:
You know what the worst thing about the Nexus One was? It was a really good phone. Sure, it didn't have the iconic techno-hipster look of the iPhone, or the no-nonsense dignity of the BlackBerry, but it did everything well. And the fact that it was called the Nexus One only implied Google would milk the franchise for all it's worth -- think of how amazing the Nexus Five would have been.
But then Google got greedy. They tried to bypass the big carriers and sell the phone directly to users online. And if there's one thing carriers know how to do, with or without Google's help, it's ruin a good thing (insert Google-Verizon net neutrality joke here). Alas, the direct-from-Google Nexus phone is all but gone. Fear not, though, you can still get a perfectly good Android phone from your local carrier, only $99.99 with a 48-year contract.
Back in 2000, a group of New York University students created a service that would let users text-message their location, and in turn receive updates about where their friends were, what cool stuff was nearby, etc. You know, the kind of thing everybody does now, but ten years ago would have been considered strange and unnecessary. Interesting side note: that last sentence can pretty much be used to describe every tech product or service we have ever written about.
Google bought up Dodgeball in 2005. Today, that seems like a really forward-looking investment. The thing is, Google shut it down in 2009, after it seems the company and the former university students who designed it didn't get along. Yup, Google shut down a location-based social service just as location-based social service became the hottest thing in tech. What's worse, one of Dodgeball's founders went on to help design Foursquare, the most popular location site out there. In keeping with Google's engineering and investment prowess, they should buy Foursquare, and then travel back in time so they can shut it down last year.
5. Google Buzz:
Remember back when Google tried to create a social networking service based on Gmail? Remember how all those people got upset when Buzz automatically told the world about their various business partners, inside sources and secret lovers? Remember all the frivolous garbage everybody ended up "sharing"? Wow, what a mess that was. Thank God that nightmare is over.
Wait, what? Google Buzz is still around? Fine, just bookmark this page and re-read this article two weeks from now.