Tech

Googles constant product shutdowns are damaging its brand

Enlarge / An artist's rendering of Google's current reputation.Aurich Lawson

It's only April, and 2019 has already been an absolutely brutal year for Google's product portfolio. The Chromecast Audio was discontinued January 11. YouTube annotations were removed and deleted January 15. Google Fiber packed up and left a Fiber city on February 8. Android Things dropped IoT support on February 13. Google's laptop and tablet division was reportedly slashed on March 12. Google Allo shut down on March 13. The "Spotlight Stories" VR studio closed its doors on March 14. The goo.gl URL shortener was cut off from new users on March 30. Gmail's IFTTT support stopped working March 31.

And today, April 2, we're having a Google Funeral double-header: both Google+ (for consumers) and Google Inbox are being laid to rest. Later this year, Google Hangouts "Classic" will start to wind down, and somehow also scheduled for 2019 is Google Music's "migration" to YouTube Music, with the Google service being put on death row sometime afterward.

We are 91 days into the year, and so far, Google is racking up an unprecedented body count. If we just take the official shutdown dates that have already occurred in 2019, a Google-branded product, feature, or service has died, on average, about every nine days.

Some of these product shutdowns have transition plans, and some of them (like Google+) represent Google completely abandoning a user base. The specifics aren't crucial, though. What matters is that every single one of these actions has a negative consequence for Google's brand, and the near-constant stream of shutdown announcements makes Google seem more unstable and untrustworthy than it has ever been. Yes, there was the one time Google killed Google Wave nine years ago or when it took Google Reader away six years ago, but things were never this bad.

For a while there has been a subset of people concerned about Google's privacy and antitrust issues, but now Google is eroding trust that its existing customers have in the company. That's a huge problem. Google has significantly harmed its brand over the last few months, and I'm not even sure the company realizes it.

Google products require trust and investment

The latest batch of dead and dying Google apps.
Enlarge / The latest batch of dead and dying Google apps.

Google is a platform company. Be it cloud compute, app and extension ecosystems, developer APIs, advertising solutions, operating-system pre-installs, or the storage of user data, Google constantly asks for investment from consumers, developers, and partner companies in the things it builds. Any successful platform will pretty much require trust and buy-in from these groups. These groups need to feel the platform they invest in today will be there tomorrow, or they'll move on to something else. If any of these groups loses faith in Google, it could have disastrous effects for the company.

Consumers want to know the photos, videos, and emails they upload to Google will stick around. If you buy a Chromecast or Google Home, you need to know the servers and ecosystems they depend on will continue to work, so they don't turn into fancy paperweights tomorrow. If you take the time to move yourself, your friends, and your family to a new messaging service, you need to know it won't be shut down two years later. If you begrudgingly join a new social network that was forced down your throat, you need to know it won't leak your data everywhere, shut down, and delete all your posts a few years later.

There are also enterprise customers, who, above all, like safe bets with established companies. The old adage of "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" is partly a reference for the enterprise's desire for a stable, steady, reliable tech partner. Google is trying to tackle this same market with its paid G Suite program, but the most it can do in terms of stability is post a calendar detailing the rollercoaster of consumer-oriented changes coming down the pipeline. There's a slower "Scheduled release track" that delays the rollout of some features, but things like a complete revamp of Gmail eventually all still arrive. G Suite has a "Core Services" list meant to show confidence in certain products sticking around, but some of the entries there, like Hangouts and Google Talk, still get shut down.

Developers gamble on a platform's stability even more than consumers do. Consumers might trust a service with their data or spend money on hardware, but developers can spend months building an app for a platform. They need to read documentation, set up SDKs, figure out how APIs work, possibly pay developer startup fees, and maybe even learn a new language. They won't do any of this if they don't have faith in the long-term stability of the platform.

Developers can literally build their products around paid-access Google APIs like the Google Maps API, and when Google does things like raise the price of the Maps API by 14x for some use cases, it is incredibly disruptive for those businesses and harmful to Google's brand. When apps like Reddit clients are flagged by Google Play "every other month" for the crime of displaying user-generated content and when it's impossible to talk to a human at Google about anything, developers are less likely to invest in your schizophrenic ecosystem.

Hardware manufacturers and other company partners need to be able to trust a company, too. Google constantly asks hardware developers to build devices dependent on its services. These are things like Google Assistant-compatible speakers and smart displays, devices with Chromecast built in, and Android and Chrome OS devices. Manufacturers need to know a certain product or feature they are planning to integrate will be around for years, since they need to both commit to a potentially multi-year planning and development cycle, and then it needs to survive long enough for customers to be supported for a few years. Watching Android Things chop off a major segment of its market nine months after launch would certainly make me nervous to develop anything based on Android Things. Imagine the risk Volvo is taking by integrating the new Android Auto OS into its upcoming Polestar 2: vehicles need around five years of development time and still need to be supported for several years after launch.

Googles shutdowns cast a shadow over the entire company

With so many shutdowns, tracking Google's bodycount has become a competitive industry on the Internet. Over on Wikipedia, the list of discontinued Google products and services is starting to approach the size of the active products and services listed. There are entire sites dedicated to discontinued Google products, like killedbygoogle.com, The Google Cemetery, and didgoogleshutdown.com.

I think we're seeing a lot of the consequences of Google's damaged brand in the recent Read More – Source

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