Google+ launched with much fanfare recently and, quickly, the reviews poured in. We even wrote about the things we thought Google+ would need to do to beat Facebook, and we have since had a chance to look around inside the social networking platform. It does appear to be easier to use than Facebook, but there is still a long way to go and, with Google, you just never know.
In their fascinating history, Google has put a lot of different apps, sites and concepts onto the Web. Some of them have been astonishingly successful while others have failed miserably. Setting aside the search engine, since it was the basis for starting the company, here is a list of the five biggest Google wins and the five biggest Google fails as we all wait to see where Google+ will eventually reside.
Let's start with the wins because, frankly, they are not difficult to identify and, despite many leaps of poor judgment by the company, they have put forth some of the most successful technological initiatives ever.
5. Analytics If you work in the Web business or have a Web site, you will likely spend some time dealing with arguably the best and most comprehensive visitor tracking tool ever invented. Before Analytics, Webmasters, developers and search engine optimization specialists were relegated to expensive or clunky statistical software. Analytics, like most of Google's offerings, is free and helps people every day figure out who visits their Web sites and why.
4. Docs Document sharing in the era of Microsoft was a taxing, expensive and annoying job. For many, it still is. But, Google Docs (part of the Google Apps business tools) provides for simple document conversion, sharing and storage. It's not perfect, but it is, by far, the best low-impact, low-cost option for document libraries out there.
3. Chrome Anyone who uses the Web routinely knows that Internet Explorer, not the first but certainly the most widely used browser, is, in short, crappy. It's slow, not terribly secure, horrible at rendering code (IE makes developers want to stab every engineer at Microsoft repeatedly with a dull knife) and doesn't have even a tenth of the features of Firefox. But, since shortly after Chrome was released, we were sold on this super-fast, clean interface that, not surprisingly, works effortlessly with Google technology.
2. Gmail E-mail has not changed all that much since it was first invented. Some of the tools have changed and the delivery methods, but it is still a basic back-and-forth message discussion and, for many years, Microsoft owned that conversation. The very acronym used for configuring mail server domains is MX, short for "mail exchange," and the commonly used Microsoft mail server software is called Microsoft Exchange (MX for short). When Gmail emerged, all that began to change. The bare-bones interface, myriad of options and tons of free storage sent millions from @aol, @yahoo and @msn (Microsoft) addresses to Gmail. Now, businesses are dropping the costly Exchange in favor of the relatively cheap and reliable Gmail.
1. Maps Remember when Key Maps were the only way most of us could find our way around big cities like Houston without getting lost? Perhaps no technology on the Internet has been as remarkable at providing such a basic service so simply. It is the default for getting directions on most smart phones and on the web. Beyond just directions, it provides views of the world we never thought we would have at our fingertips and is a brilliant teaching tool. Maps has, in many ways, changed the way we get from point A to point B.
Now, for the failures. Google makes a lot of mistakes because it takes a lot of chances. Here are five of their biggest fails.
5. Google TV Integration of Web and television throughout the years has been sloppy and awkward, like the wedding night of a couple of virgins, and it is still evolving. Google TV was an attempt -- much like Apple TV, which has been only marginally more successful -- at putting the tools of the Web on your television. Unfortunately for Google, most people just didn't want the vast majority of those tools on the TV. Streaming shows is great, but most people don't care about searching the Web for information during a show and, if they do, they use a laptop or an iPad. Google TV still exists, but it was a massive bust considering all the hype.
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4. Orkut Never heard of Orkut? Don't feel bad. It was Google's first Google+, a social networking platform that was as bad as its name (the guy who developed it named it after...himself). This may be one of Google's least hyped products and the lack of success of Orkut in the U.S. and Europe lived right down to expectations. It is the most popular social networking site in India and Brazil, but that didn't keep it from falling on its face in the states.
3. Answers Think of Google Answers as Yahoo! Answers meets eBay. Users could post a question and offer a "bounty" for answers -- anywhere from $2 to $200 -- of which Google took 25 percent. The big question that would seem to be apparent now is, why did Google think anyone would pay for the answer to a question they could get for free pretty much anywhere else on the Web? Also, isn't Google's search engine designed to provide answers already? The crack team at Google didn't think of that, we suppose, and Answers died in 2006.
2. Buzz When you want to invent something on the Internet, it is a good idea to make something that doesn't exist already, adds on to something that does exist in a tangible way or is substantially better than whatever is out there. Google Buzz was an online socially networked status update tool. Only problem is that a little Web site called Twitter was already beaming 140-character back and forth between millions of users, never mind the status update tool on Facebook. Most people examined Buzz with a collective WTF?
1. Wave Few game-changing concepts were as hyped as Google Wave. We remember friends of ours at the time saying it was like a Swiss Army Knife for the Internet, doing lots of different things and integrating them into one simple interface. The problem is that, as has been the case with Google, it was too damn difficult to understand. The engineers outsmarted the normals and we all just gawked at Wave presentations as if we were listening to Stephen Hawking explain space time. Google sunk an awful lot of time and money into a product seemingly without thinking for a moment of the average computer user, who struggles to understand the difference between an e-mail and a Web site, making it, easily, Google's biggest fail.