Google isn’t afraid to make mistakes, and if you peek into its graveyard, you’ll notice that it makes quite a few mistakes.
The company takes a “see what sticks” approach to development, releasing a whole bunch of products and features only to then kill them, sometimes only months later. Until 2019, the tech giant used to shut down products in quarterly installments called “spring cleanings,” which is as iconic as it is funny.
With the recent slow and very painful death of google glasses (RIP) I thought it would be fun to take a look at Google’s best and worst projects to have bitten the dust.
Three who deserved to go
These cute blobby emoji
Emoji have become part of everyday communication, whether it’s setting the right tone for those nerve-wracking work texts when you’re trying not to sound passive-aggressive, adding a little spice to your messy 3 a.m. tweets, or even as substitutes for whole sentences or phrases.
Now, Google emoji had none of that. Personally, I found them a little endearing in their own way. However, the cringe-inducing feeling when comparing emojis or sharing texts with someone who wasn’t stuck with certain Android smartphones was unprecedented.
Friends with iPhones or Samsung phones still showed their normal-looking emoji and compared them to Google’s thumb faces. Not to mention, you had no idea what your army of molten yellow men would look like on other phones.
In the grand scheme of things, I’m glad they were removed. Google may have gotten the message that emojis are awful, saying its final goodbyes to them in a original World Emoji Day blog post in 2017.
If you’re a large company looking to shut down a department, here’s an example of how to do it right. Earlier this year, Google announced the death of Stadia, offering free hardware, game refunds and saved game transfers to soften the blow of the removed service. Take note, literally everyone.
Google Stadia had a rough start, to put it mildly, when he kicked off in November 2019, coming on stage without many of the best features that were promised when promoting the service. Most of these features had great potential to become cornerstones of the service and fan favorites if properly handled at launch. Take Crowd Play, for example, which allows users to play with the streamers they watch, or Family Sharing, which would allow families to share games.
Sticky start aside, Google promised to work on Stadia and improve the platform for gamers, though obviously, in the end, that wasn’t enough. It’s hard to put Stadia on this side of the list because it had a lot of potential, but unfortunately Google never made the effort to meet its competitors.
Stadia, I’m glad you’re gone and out of your misery.
Private messaging on YouTube
Private Messaging on YouTube launched in 2017 and got the hang of it two years later in 2019 – an incredibly short lifespan for a pretty big feature. YouTube didn’t give an explicit reason why the feature was deprioritized, but I could think of a few.
Google has always struggled with having a lot of messaging apps. In fact, if you virtually walk around the Google graveyard, a large majority of tombstones belong to messaging apps. Having another messaging app that hardly anyone used probably muddied the waters at Google headquarters even more and created extra work for nothing.
I think the main reason for Google’s decision to remove private messaging may be the number of children using YouTube. When Google announced the feature was being removed in a 2019 blog post, the comments section was filled with miners lamenting the loss (Tech Crunch). At first glance, these kids were using YouTube’s private messaging to bypass parental controls present on other apps.
Kids on YouTube certainly contributed to the death of the Youtube DM. At that time, YouTube was in its “child protection” era, disabling comments on videos featuring children and launching youtube for kids, a safer platform designed to protect them from inappropriate content – and fix YouTube’s monetization issues.
Three who will be missed
This one hurt. Google Reader died in 2013 during another round of spring cleaning. The RSS aggregator was launched in 2005 and had gone through a number of changes, but before its death it hadn’t had any major updates for a long time.
The demise of Google Reader was a blow to fans of the service. It was one of the most populated RSS aggregators and dominated the wider RSS reader scene. According to Google, the move came because “use of Google Reader has declined”, much to the shock of its fans.
With the growing popularity of third-party sharing and social apps, it makes sense that Google Reader would have come to a halt then, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been missed. People still use RSS readers to this day, after all!
YouTube Gaming was merged into the main YouTube app in May 2019. The shutdown was announced the previous year, with the video-sharing platform citing confusion among gaming fans as the main reason for the decision. As part of this integration, we’ve instead seen a game-focused “hub” introduced into the main app.
The standalone YouTube Gaming app was launched in 2015 and promoted as a way to improve the live streaming experience and keep irrelevant content away from gaming fans. It hasn’t quite taken off like Google (or the rest of us, really) expected, with many people still watching gaming content on the standard YouTube app.
YouTube Gaming was a great platform for creators and viewers to try new things, and since many regular YouTube viewers don’t really watch gaming content, the split made sense.
It may not have been Google’s most popular product and probably didn’t even make a mark on many people’s lives. After all, you could say you can rely on the algorithm to keep unwanted videos at bay. However, relegating gaming content to its own app has allowed gamers to enjoy uninterrupted content based on their interests, so I’m sure some are missing it to this day.
Perhaps the project that I personally miss the most, and certainly the one that had the most potential, is Project Ara, a modular smartphone project whose development was suspended in 2016.
The idea was to reinvent the smartphone as a series of Lego-like bricks that could be attached and rearranged in seconds. However, the phone never made it to market, although Google suggested that the Ara phone would hit retailers in fall 2016.
The decision likely came as a way to clean up the company’s seemingly disorganized product line, which, in hindsight, is fair enough; they had a lot of products to juggle. Still, I wish Google had removed something less interesting.
The mobile concept was definitely ambitious, but had Google pursued the idea a bit longer, Ara could have really wowed the contemporary phone sphere. The concept is incredibly cool and paired with the phone technology we have today, I think it would definitely have been a beloved product.