Google is in a vicious build-retire cycle

Martin Brinkmann
Aug 16, 2016
Updated • Jan 4, 2018
Companies, Google

Google created or bought several long-standing successful products since the company started out as a startup to revolutionize search.

The most successful products are probably Google Search, Gmail, Chrome, Maps, Adsense/Adwords, Android and YouTube.

Lately however, the company has been in a vicious cycle of creating or buying new products or services, and retiring them later on.

One prime example of this is Google+. Once hailed as Google's answer to social media giant Facebook, it is pushed out of products it once was forcefully integrated in, and slowly withering away.

Google+ coincidentally replaced the company's Google Buzz and Google Friend Connect products, and maybe also Orkut.

One side product of Google+ was Hangouts, and a part of that was Google+ Hangouts on Air. Google announced quietly that it will retire Hangouts on Air on September 12. The company wants broadcasters and users to switch over to YouTube Live instead.

Some of the apps that Hangouts on Air broadcasters could make use of, Q&A, Showcase and Applause, are not available on YouTube Live.

Things get crowded on the messaging front as well. Google announced back in May that it would launch two new mobile-only messaging applications.

Duo is a video chat app tied to the device's phone number, and the core feature of it is that it is dead easy to use, and that you see a preview of the caller on the screen.

Allo on the other hand is a messaging app with an assistant. It ties to the phone number too, and the one thing that sets it apart from myriads of other messaging apps is the assistant.

Google wants the assistant to learn from your chats, and base suggestions on that. The assistant supports the usual "digital assistant" things like answering your questions or booking a restaurant table for you.

Allo and Duo are two messaging services that are launched besides Google's Hangouts and Messenger services.

Google Spaces is another product in the messaging vertical. It is "designed to make group sharing easier".

Google does not mind pushing out new products, and retiring products that don't fit the company's strategy anymore.

If you check out Wikipedia's list of discontinued products, you find several listed there that any other company would be glad to continue. One does not have to go back to the discontinuation of Google Reader for that. The company retired Google Code and Picasa in 2016 for instance.

The future

It seems likely that Google will continue to create and buy products, and cancel some of them months or years later.

Even popular services such as Gmail don't appear to be safe, as Google launched Inbox some time ago that provides similar functionality, and might as well replace Gmail with it at one point in time.

I stopped jumping on the Google hype-wagon a long time ago because of the company's tendency to retire products.

I'm not saying that Google is not creating or acquiring great products. It is clear however that Google has a tendency of trying things, and discontinuing them.

Now You: What's your opinion on this?

Google is in a vicious build-retire cycle
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  1. dedup said on August 22, 2016 at 9:07 am

    IMO the “vicious cycle” began when they retired the beloved and missed Google Reader because of the pressure of online press

  2. Declan said on August 18, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    My biggest disappointment is the removal of Outlook Calendar Connector. Of course it was a jab at Microsoft, but it was incredibly convenient for those with Android phones who needed the Calendar Connector to receive email from Outlook on their phones. That really irritated a whopping sized group of business users who depend on their smartphones to receive communications away from their desk, since the vast majority of businesses use desktop Outlook.

    I worked in IT at the corporate HQ for BP in Houston at the time (pre Macondo explosion era). Our campus had close to 10,000 employees on site, each with a company issued computer running the same standardized OS and software. And that was just the North American HQ and not all the regional locations scattered all across the continent. Imagine the collective angst when Google did that. It wasn’t to hurt business, it was to irritate Microsoft since Microsoft couldn’t do anything about it. Now imagine many, many other large corporations in the same situation. That’s hundreds and hundreds of thousands of corporate users in America alone.

    Google later commented that it was a mistake since they were able to glean data from all those corporate emails flowing around, but shot themselves in the foot when they shut down their calendar connector. But by then the damage was done and they couldn’t graciously backtrack, so they didn’t.

    I would still like for someone to develop an effect connector between desktop Outlook and Android phones. Even as a low fee paid app it would generate a small fortune.

    If any reader here has the skill and the chops to do it, I’ll be glad to help.

  3. Charlie said on August 18, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    I used a Kodak product to manage my photos/videos on my HD. Kodak is gone. And I used Picasa to do the same – and Picasa is gone. This might not be the best forum to ask, but Ghacks has lots of smart followers who might know the answer. What now might be the best free software product for me to use to manage my thousands of pics & vids on my HD? Running W10 64bit on a desktop, btw.

  4. Marco said on August 17, 2016 at 10:19 am

    I’d be very surprised if Google ever retired Gmail though. I don’t think this will ever happen. Other ‘minor’ products for sure, but not Gmail.

    1. Sean said on August 18, 2016 at 2:55 pm

      Consider Google is a Distro type of service with less reliability and you’ll see that your issues are gone. Although my primary a/c is Gmail, it is always triggered to some other services as well ( as a back up. I like their innovative style, it is dynamic and perfection oriented but I started hating them since they took of SMS/TEXT facility off Google Calendar. Utter blondishness. I was a Google fan till then.

    2. Martin Brinkmann said on August 17, 2016 at 10:22 am

      They could force a move to inbox.

      1. Danny said on August 17, 2016 at 11:21 am

        They might for consumers, but businesses on Google Apps (such as myself) would be up in arms if they did…

  5. A different Martin said on August 17, 2016 at 6:34 am

    I miss the Google Talk taskbar app (which notified me when new Gmails came in and let me make phone calls without having to load 32-bit Firefox), and I miss iGoogle. But what upsets me more than losing those is the dumbing-down and reduced functionality and ease of use in the Gmaps and Gmail interfaces. I held on to classic Gmaps as long as possible, and for a while, there were browser extensions that restored the classic Gmail compose window, but they stopped working quite some time ago. (I can’t stand the “new” compose window.) At least Gmail’s spam and phishing filters are still outstanding.

    According to Julian Assange, Google spends more on lobbying than any other company in the US and has meetings at the White House at least once a week. Maybe all of that lobbying and meeting activity simply doesn’t leave them enough time to tend to underperforming apps and services, so they have no choice other than to dump them… ;-)

  6. Earl said on August 17, 2016 at 2:46 am

    Duo >> I don’t make video calls… ever. Don’t want to.

    I used Reader every day, all day. Retiring Reader lost Google tons of goodwill that they’ll never recover no matter how many “products” they introduce or how well they work. If they have a tool I can use, then I’ll use it. But I’ll never actually trust them again to provide users with what they want.

    And Gmail is still the best tool for email.

    Yin yang… as usual.

    1. Heimen Stoffels said on August 18, 2016 at 6:56 pm

      I don’t agree. I find Gmail’s interface confusing and hard to use. is much simpler in my opinion, which is why I use it (although I must admit that I use BlackBerry Hub on my BB Passport more than the interface these days).

  7. Baba Vanga said on August 17, 2016 at 1:52 am

    2017: Google developes GOOGLE GRAMMAR: an automated typogrphical error Bot that’s embedded in WINDOWS Updates, SYSTEMD Updates, MAC OS Updates.

    2020: People can discuss with only GOOGLE GRAMMAR aprroved words. Terms as Freedom, Kostenlos or Anonimity are BANNED.

    2036: GOOGLE promotes its CEO as the WORLD TYRANT. People can’t find the words for that unxepectred GOOGLE move.

    PROTIP: I do use a gmail account for leaving replies online. I lost the password, so who cares?

  8. Mikhoul said on August 17, 2016 at 1:25 am

    >What’s your opinion on this?

    Google in their first years had as a primary goal to make great products/software, that’s how they become famous and respected as a company. But over the time their primary goal shifted from make great products ethically to making $money$ at ant price including losing their ethic.

    They sell their soul to CAPITALISM, they only criteria to keep their products alive is does it bring big $MONEY$ ?

    They become more and more the Microsoft of the social tech company, they showed it clearly when they tried to shovel in the mouth of their users their crappy Google+ via Youtube (same as Microsoft shoveling W10 to Win7/8 users).

    When your products are crappy and you have ton of $$$ why listen your users, just shovel them what you want in their mouths,

    1. Heimen Stoffels said on August 18, 2016 at 6:52 pm

      But at least *some* of Microsoft’s teams do listen. For example, OneNote Online and Word Online frequently get new features based on user input. I haven’t seen any of Google’s teams listen.

      Note that I’m NOT saying that all of MS is so much better. In fact, I agree with your statement regarding Win10.

  9. Graham said on August 16, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    I think Google might have peaked and are doing everything they can to alleviate costs. They bought so many companies after the past several years, and now it seems to be biting them in the ass. It’s gotten so bad that they’re selling off the companies they purchased. Their most expensive acquisition, Motorola Mobility, was sold away at a fraction of the cost. They’re also selling off two of their X divisions, Boston Dynamics and Schaft.

    Yeah, something is seriously wrong with Google.

  10. Valrobex said on August 16, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    I suspect that Google buys and/or develops these different Services/Apps in order to increase its data and knowledge base for each and every App user. It’s all about gathering intimate knowledge about each and every user so they can develop profiles and then subsequently sell that information to make money.

    Should Google have two products that create “duplicate” information Google discontinues the one that monetizes the lesser amount and then emphasizes and augments the other App. Now it is quite possible that Google uses “two” Apps to double check the acquired information and discontinues the “third” App because the “two” Apps are sufficient to validate the information for sale.

    Google is excellent at providing desirable “free” services but imho it is at too great a cost in privacy: a price I choose not to pay. Consequently, I avoid all Google “services” as much as possible. And I’m getting along just fine without them. (Though truth be told, Google more than likely, has some form of profile on me anyway…)

    I believe a more honorable way to provide these services would be to charge a fee for their use. But then, Google would not make anywhere near as much money nor be the “800 pound gorilla” in the tech world that they are.

  11. Proper_English said on August 16, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Author should definitely take some English classes. Reading this article was painful.

    1. Declan said on August 18, 2016 at 4:30 pm

      So, Mr. English…
      You must be new to these here parts ’round here.

    2. T J said on August 16, 2016 at 9:20 pm

      @ Proper_English

      Thank you for your erudite input reference the blog content, with special reference to Google’s Chrome deprecations.

      For your information !! Martin Brinkman is GERMAN !! I am English but, having lived and worked in Germany, I can say that Martin’s written english is excellent. He does make the occasional typo and grammatical error. Even native english speakers such as myself do.
      You are the third poster to criticize his typos. PLEASE knock it off.

      I assume that you are an english speaker from an english speaking country. What second language can YOU write fluently ?

      You wrote:
      “Author should definitely take some English classes”.
      To be pedantically correct, you should have written:
      “The author should definitely take some English classes”. You are a sloppy writer and you need a proof reader :-)

      1. Tom Hawack said on August 16, 2016 at 10:42 pm

        Valrobex, the guy was on a bad mood (hope it — the mood — vanished!) or testing reactions for the fun (that happens, especially on the Web). It’s so flagrant, exaggerated that it cannot be really mean. Things start to be aggressive when there’s a reasonable, plausible basis to hold an argument, should it be warped.

        Of course Martin is fluent with English (I sometimes read a wording that reflects his history in an important financial institution, organization) and I’d love to write as he does. We all know that, and the Grammar cop must know it by now :)

      2. Valrobex said on August 16, 2016 at 10:23 pm

        Hey Tom & T J:

        It’s incredible how picayune some people can be (aka: Proper_English.) A more “proper” response would be to comment on the article’s content. But what the hell do I know?… :+)

        I guess Proper_English has little to contribute other than his/her “snarkiness.”

    3. Tom Hawack said on August 16, 2016 at 8:20 pm

      There’s your pal in the area, Grammer Police :)

  12. Daniel said on August 16, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    Google Keep and other apps on Android should make it harder for Google to do those switcharoos now.

  13. pd said on August 16, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    The tendency to burn users if a product doesn’t reach a clear number one position in the market can’t go without consequences forever, surely?

    The propensity to release overlapping products is an interesting one. In theory it might prevent complacency but in practice it might just as easily confuse the market and users.

    Providing a simple migration from one retiring product to the next overlapping, but better, product is probably the key issue.

    If they are simply trying to maintain an inflated share price based on continued new-product hype, without consideration to the probable issues of overlapping, that could be dangerous. Probably will not be though. The key to Google is their sheer size. If anyone can afford to confuse the market, burn users and waste resources on overlapping products, is it not Google? Search keeps people coming back so they’ve a captive audience for manipulation. Arguably nobody has ever done online computing anywhere nearly as well as they have. How many years can they ride out the honeymoon whilst Microsoft keeps trying to reinvent itself into a Goopple whilst Apple tries desperately to diversify it’s once pig-ignorant one-size-fits-all, save your pennies or bad luck, approach.

    1. Heimen Stoffels said on August 18, 2016 at 6:46 pm

      “Search keeps people coming back”

      It’s true that the majority of people still use Google Search (not including me), but the last few years the market share of Google Search is dropping. In fact, with the latest drop this year, Bing has shown to be growing faster: DuckDuckGo’s market share also increases albeit very slowly, but growth = growth.
      So there’s more and more people who don’t come back to Google Search.

  14. MartinDK said on August 16, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Change is good, and all that, because some of the time it might bring progress along with it. But the removal of some of their products still feels more like a step back instead of forwards.

    The Google product death I lament the most is without a doubt Google Reader. I’ve come to accept and enjoy Feedly – especially in conjunction with the excellent FeedMe & Pocket apps on my Android phones. Still prefered Reader, though.

    Another thing I’m unhappy with is the removal of Collections from Youtube, which let you group channel subscriptions together. I used it to filter my ever-growing list of subscriptions into topics, that I could then peruse at my liking.
    Without collections, the Youtube experience has degenerated into something not entirely unlike Twitter if you’re not using lists – a chaotic infosplosion clusterf…

    On the topic of messaging apps for Android, I seriously hope they redo the “Direct Share” feature. I always disabled Messages because it injected two lines of people from my contacts at the top of the sharing menu. Aside from the glaring privacy concerns, the feature has limited usefulness since you can’t control which contacts go there. Sadly, they later brought the “feature” to Hangouts as well. If Allo has an option to disable it, Hangouts is discarded in the blink of an eye.

    All that being said, I’m still semi-hyped for the release of the next Nexus phones & Android Nougat, which according to the rumourmill are possibly coming as early as next month.

  15. Coriy said on August 16, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    I’d call Alphabet a Vulture Capitalist firm, but I’m not sure my terms are correct. They buy something and if it makes them googles of cash they keep it, otherwise… Bu-Bye. And not we’ve got Fuchsia coming, so I’ll make a prediction: it’ll be replacing Chrome OS and Android. Think about it, they’re already at N with Android Nougat, so they’ll be hitting Z before long. Also, with Android Apps coming to Chrome OS, why not merge them into one.

    1. Graham said on August 17, 2016 at 2:42 am

      Alphabet is just a holding company.

  16. sad said on August 16, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    “Even popular services such as Gmail don’t appear save”
    I think it should be “Even popular services such as Gmail don’t appear to be safe”.

  17. eduardo cardio said on August 16, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    Hire a proofreader! ;-)

    “Google created or bought several long-standing successful (products) since the company started out as a startup to revolutionize search.”

    “Even popular services such as Gmail don’t appear save (safe), as Google launched Inbox some time ago that provides similar functionality and might as well replace Gmail at one point in time.”

  18. Kin said on August 16, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    I have stopped using google products(except for gmail) for this very reason. After having 3 products “retired” in my face over the years, I vowed never to use new google products again.(The 3 products were Google Reader/iGoogle, Calendar sync for older outlook version and Notebook. They also pi**ed me off good when they moved picasa to google+) You simply cannot rely on them to stick with something and not abandon you right in the middle of the road afterward.

    So now when I see a new products that looks interesting, I actually wait for another company to develop something similar and use that instead.

    And I cry when something I use gets bought by them.

    1. DComedian said on August 16, 2016 at 3:39 pm

      I’ve had exactly the same experience as Kin, having been a user of Google Reader (I now use the excellent Inoreader), iGoogle (now use igHome which doesn’t have the same range of widgets), and Notebook (now use the superior Evernote).

      I’m also very wary about using a new Google product unless it offers a clear advantage over what else is available. I can only think of Google Photos Backup that falls into this category in recent years.

      It seems strange to me that Google have adopted this policy, as every time they discontinue a product that they’ve encouraged people to use they are going to increase the number of people who become disillusioned with their products, and they lose the trust of their potential customers.

    2. sad said on August 16, 2016 at 3:21 pm

      I too only use gmail.. I was using it since it was invite only but lately the interface becomes bad, an example: I can no longer right click save any attachment :(

      I used GReader and iGoogle too, I was quite panicked that time. Fortunately replacements came soon.
      Don’t forget about Panoramio too.. I didn’t use it but I know someone sad because it was destroyed by Google.
      On the bright side, fortunately I did not upload my photos to Picasa :)

      1. anon said on August 16, 2016 at 3:40 pm

        @sad, you can find your Picasa Web Albums stuff in the Album Archive. They didn’t make you lose any of your data.

    3. anon said on August 16, 2016 at 3:17 pm

      They didn’t replace Picasa Web Albums with Google+. Picasa Web Albums was removed 2 weeks ago in favor of Google Photos.

      1. Heimen Stoffels said on August 18, 2016 at 6:35 pm

        Google Photos is waaaay different from Picasa Web Albums so it’s not really the alternative they claim it to be.

      2. Kin said on August 17, 2016 at 3:55 pm

        Tell that to all my picasa albums that got migrated to google+ years ago.

  19. MrHandsome said on August 16, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    They are buying userbases…. moving and migrating them to their later products.

    1. Declan said on August 18, 2016 at 4:26 pm

      @MrHandsome … THAT is the core truth of Google’s business model. if you can get a new customer base and integrate them into the existing data collection/advertising system, then that revenue generated will more than compensate for the purchase price.

      This has been Microsoft’s model for years. Microsoft continues the process and since it’s working for Google as well, we should not be surprised when others proceed to implement it also. Because it works, regardless of customer satisfaction. The business concept of “customer is king’ got tossed out the window after the tech bubble bust in the early 2000’s.

      1. Heimen Stoffels said on August 18, 2016 at 6:30 pm

        But at least Microsoft *tries* to migrate their old services into their new ones. For example, Hotmail became Live Mail and that became Outlook. No one lost their e-mail addresses, e-mails, contacts, etc. Same with SkyDrive –> OneDrive. With Google you’re often left stranded. For example, Google Photos is supposed to be the alternative to Picasa Web Albums but it doesn’t really migrate your PWA stuff, has weird sorting and misses feature. Same with Hangouts on Air –> YouTube Live.

  20. Tom Hawack said on August 16, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    “Number One or nothing” could be Google’s motto. I don’t, I’ve never used all the Google services mentioned in the article so I cannot express any critics. Generally speaking when it comes to Web applications and services the trend seems to be a continuous test & keep/remove, and when keep until when? Google more than others perhaps. It’s business, like in a plain supermarket when products with little success are removed and make the supermarket appear as a cooperative more than what is supposed to characterize the western world’s free markets : diversity.
    Is the “free” world adopting the cooperative standards while keeping the liberal prices? It must be tempting, to propose only what most will buy and explains why such a pressure is put on inciting people to use hyper-advertised products.

  21. slumbergod said on August 16, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    I’m cautious about relying on Google products too. The wake up call for me was when they retired Google Reader, something I used and relied on daily. Well guess what, RSS is still alive and well. Then there was the way they killed the awesome picasa application. But what really frustrates is how they don’t listen. Their online spreadsheet was so buggy I stopped using it. Their mantra of “do no evil” has changed to “we do what we want because we can and screw everyone else”.

  22. anon said on August 16, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    >What’s your opinion on this?
    It sucks but if the product and/or service didn’t succeed, it will go because support and maintenance aren’t free.

    Also, in case you’re not aware, Google finally shut down Picasa Web Albums earlier this month. The Album Archive keeps the stuff you had there.

    1. Heimen Stoffels said on August 18, 2016 at 6:26 pm

      But Google Reader did succeed and was used by lots of people, hence all the ruckus when they announced the shutdown.

      Also, I get that some products are not successful anymore but why replace them with stripped-down alternatives (Hangouts on Air –> YouTube Live, Picasa Web Albums –> Google Photos)?

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