Google Labs is Closing? That’s Unthinkable–Whether or Not It’s a Good Idea

By  |  Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Shock and sadness are not emotions I’m used to experiencing when I read the corporate blog of a large tech company. But those are the ones I felt as I read this post at Google’s official blog:

Last week we explained that we’re prioritizing our product efforts. As part of that process, we’ve decided to wind down Google Labs. While we’ve learned a huge amount by launching very early prototypes in Labs, we believe that greater focus is crucial if we’re to make the most of the extraordinary opportunities ahead.

In many cases, this will mean ending Labs experiments—in others we’ll incorporate Labs products and technologies into different product areas. And many of the Labs products that are Android apps today will continue to be available on Android Market. We’ll update you on our progress via the Google Labs website.

We’ll continue to push speed and innovation—the driving forces behind Google Labs—across all our products, as the early launch of the Google+ field trial last month showed.

Google, a company that’s famous for letting engineers work on idiosyncratic side projects, has decided that idiosyncratic side projects are a bad idea? It’s unthinkable–as if Disney World decided to bulldoze Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or something. (Er, waitaminnit–it did that. In 1998.)

As far as I know, Google Labs wasn’t a place so much as an idea: Google should try new things and err on the side of sharing them with the public, but in a way that doesn’t mess up existing products with ideas that are still works in progress. Among the many current projects are Google Body and Android App Inventor. (I admired the latter effort even though it was the subject of a piece by David Pogue that’s one of the best negative reviews of a tech product ever written.)

At first, I panicked a bit about the news, because I thought it involved Gmail Labs going away. I use seven of the fifty Gmail add-ins available there, and Gmail would be far less appealing without them. But Gmail Labs (and other Labs such as Google Maps Labs and Google Calendar Labs) are separate experimental playgrounds, unaffected by the shuttering of Google Labs. I think. I hope.

I don’t wanna make too much of this. It’s certainly true that Google’s lack of discipline–it sometimes feels like a company that rushes off in wild pursuit of every idea that pops into its head–isn’t an unalloyed virtue for this business or for Google customers. A Google that does somewhat fewer things and does them better would be…well, a better Google.

And as the blog post suggests, the best way to judge whether Google is still a wellspring of interesting ideas is to watch what it releases from here on out. (And Google+ is a good sign.)

Still, I feel a twinge of remorse at this announcement, even if its significance is largely symbolic. Google’s oddness is one of its defining characteristics, and surely one of the secrets of its success. I hope that it finds a way to continue to try weird stuff–whether or not it slaps a Google Labs label on any of it.




3 Comments For This Post

  1. Paul Says:

    I can't believe Google is shutting down Labs. I was using one of the apps in Labs, Google Fast Flip, on a daily basis. So it's sad to see this one go. My organization teaches speed reading and we used to recommend Google Fast Flip a lot as a great way to read online content more quickly. Now that it's gone, we are planning to create a similar, but better version of Fast Flip. Updates on the project for those interested will be posted here:

  2. blogc2011 Says:

    This blog seems to get a great deal of visitors. How do you advertise it? It gives a nice individual twist on things. I guess having something real or substantial to give info on is the most important thing. free credit report

  3. PetriDish Says:

    I feel like in the past few years, Google has lost its "edge".