Google’s Biggest Problem: Commitment

It seems like one of the defining traits of Google over the past 2-5 years it’s the inability of the company to dedicate consistent resources to one of their “2nd-tier” apps. Many of the “core” Google properties (Google search, Gmail, Google Maps, Youtube, etc.) have no trouble iterating and improving year after year. But lesser apps come and go so often that it is now a joke (and the subject of some dedicated websites).

Even projects that are quite successful in a small niche aren’t safe from Google’s shotgun approach. Google’s fickle leadership has axed very popular services (and hardware) like Google Reader, Picasa, Google Nexus phones, Inbox by Gmail, Google Play Music, and Google Cloud Print (among others). Leadership isn’t just to blame, though. There’s also Google’s internal hierarchy that prioritizes making new things rather than improving or continuing existing projects.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in messaging apps.

Google and Messaging

Ars Technica recently published a look back at Google’s 15-year-plus fiasco in messaging apps, and it is honestly more than a little embarrassing for Google.

Google entered the messaging landscape in 2005, with Google Talk (sometimes called GChat). Built on open protocols, it started off quite spartan but was improved over the coming years (imagine that – year-over-year improvement on the same app!). It existed on the iPhone in 2008 (as a web app) and it also got video chat features that same year (long before Zoom was around).

The article goes on to cover every Google messaging app (and the missteps made by each of them). These include:

  • Google Voice (which is still not dead!)
  • Google Buzz (accurately described as a “non-consensual social network”)
  • Google+ (including Google+ Hangouts (group video chat in 2011, and Google+ Huddle)
  • Google Hangouts (not the same as Google+ Hangouts)
  • Google Allo
  • And many, many more (22 in total, by my count).

This article really is an interesting look back at a small slice of Google’s (and internet) history. It’s also a great example of how much a lack of clear direction can hurt a company. Even one that is so dominant in many areas and has almost unlimited resources.

Google’s Pay Problem

It seems like a microcosm of this same instability is hitting a new version of Google Pay and Google’s payment infrastructure.

The new version of Google Pay was developed from scratch for the Indian market, with a new web and mobile app developed from scratch. This new version loses quite a bit of functionality compared to the previous version. For example, the new Pay app didn’t support use on multiple devices or using multiple accounts. Each account had to have its own device, and it had to be a phone (no web app existed).

According to a Business Insider report, it appears that one possible cause for this transition mess was that numerous employees in the Pay team (including both leadership and regular engineers) have left since this past April.

Of course, this lack of functionality isn’t stopping Google from pushing ahead. It seems like Google is in talks with Citibank to create a service called “Plex” – essentially a Google bank account.

No word on what happens to your money when Google closes the bank service in 3 years.

Google Needs a Reset

I think some of the conclusions that Ron reaches ring very true to me, and it’s one of the reasons why I left Android. From the Ars article’s conclusion:

The overwhelming impression from Google’s continual messaging chaos is that nobody at the company is really in charge…Google has previously defended this hands-off management style as “letting a thousand flowers bloom,” but the company’s messaging situation is more like a yard full of weeds—neglected, embarrassing, and damaging to the company’s reputation.

And this paragraph really resonates:

Being kicked off a [shutdown Google] service has a lasting effect on a user. Google treats shutdowns like they are no big deal, but it’s more like burning a bridge with everyone on it who used the service…There used to be a lot more Google fans out there—people were optimistic about Google and eager to try any new Google products…Instead, being a Google enthusiast over the years has meant getting hit frequently by Google shutdowns. Today, I don’t think there are many Google advocates left, and it’s hard to be optimistic about any new product launch.

Hopefully, Google leadership can figure things out.