A few such aborted initiatives include Google Wave, a much-hyped messaging technology that we were told would reinvent Internet communications; Google Health, an ambitious effort to kick-start electronic medical records; PowerMeter, a tool for monitoring home energy consumption; Realtime Search, an aggregator of up-to-the-minute information from Twitter and other social networks; and Lively, a 3-D virtual world similar to Second Life. Still other ideas aren't quite dead, yet lumber along listlessly -- remember iGoogle?
Part of the problem may simply be too many ideas. Google's product development tends to be scattershot and engineering-driven, leading to a company with its hands in too many pies at once and too few marketable products to show for it. Google's stated mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," yet it currently has initiatives under way covering everything from Web browsers to mobile phones, e-books, streaming music, video on demand, programming languages, social networking, home automation, cloud computing, and even self-driving cars.
Google also tends to fixate on its favorite ideas even when they seem impractical. For example, it has invested heavily to develop Chromebooks, an attempt to reinvent the PC as a dedicated Web browsing terminal. But this idea shows few signs of gaining traction with either businesses or consumers, no matter how near and dear it is to Google's heart.
In other cases, Google can't seem to grasp what customers really want. The market for video on demand is exploding, yet the ballyhooed Google TV effort has fallen flat, with Logitech reporting returns of its Google TV boxes now exceeding new sales.
Following, not leading
A company with pockets as deep as Google's can shrug off a few such missteps, but not forever. After a while, it's only natural to forsake novelty and take your inspiration from your competitors -- even for a company that prides itself on its engineering culture, as Google does.
Take Google+, for example. It's Google's most buzzed-about launch in recent memory, but it's hardly the company's first foray into social networking. (It's the fourth, if you count Buzz, Wave, and Orkut.) It is, however, the first time Google has unabashedly aped its top rival. The Google+ Stream layout is a virtual clone of Facebook's News Feed -- ditto for its profile pages. Squint your eyes and the Google+ favicon even looks like Facebook's "F."