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Google is the defining company of the previous decade. Untold millions of people type search queries every second of every day into Google’s simple and elegant home page, accessing huge swaths of both useful and trivial information. It’s fair to say Google has radically changed not only the internet but human society itself. Besides search, Google also dominates in email, mapping, and with its Android operating system will likely soon be the key rival to the iPhone in the mobile space.

But Google isn’t infallible. The company motto may be “don’t be evil,” but “don’t screw up” clearly wasn’t on their radar. For every game-changing piece of software that Google introduces, there’s a poor cousin that just couldn’t make the grade. Here are a few of Google’s blunders, faux-pas and outright failures.

Buzz: Google is a fantastic resource for finding archived information, from blogs to old newspaper articles to digital reproductions of paintings in the Louvre. But increasingly popular real-time information such as Facebook status updates and Twitter’s never-ending data stream have thus far eluded the search giant. Google’s response has been Buzz, a real-time status updater connected to your Gmail account. Right from the outset Google caught flak for violating the privacy of its users. Buzz exposed user email addresses to one another, so if one Gmail user started following another, they had access to all their contact information. Google has since fixed that particular bug, but Buzz still lacks the stickiness of its competitors.

Wave: What exactly is Wave? That’s a very good question. Billed as a collaboration tool, it’s closest in structure to old time-sharing programs from the seventies where bearded graduate students would chat to each other on antiquated UNIX terminals. Transplant that experience to a Gmail interface and you’ve got an inkling of how confounding Wave can be for the average user. In time, Wave may prove its worth as a collaborative tool, but right now it’s just a baffling mess with no clear purpose.  

Orkut: Google’s social networking site stumbled from the start with Orkut, a service similar to Friendster and other early social networking hubs. Named after senior Google executive Orkut  HYPERLINK "" Büyükkökten, the site never caught on with anyone other than the entire nation of Brazil. For some reason Orkut is huge in the land of Carnivale, though it trails far behind Facebook, and even MySpace, everywhere else on the planet.

Gmail outage:
This isn’t technically a failed product. Millions of people, myself included, use Gmail every day and simply take for granted the astonishing amount of data being flung around the cloud by Google’s data centres. This seeming reliability made it all the more bothersome when Gmail suffered quick outages last year, causing an uproar online and sullying Google’s usually reliable reputation for service.

Google Books: Google Books isn’t a failure per se, either. In fact, it’s a noble idea to digitize every out-of-print book and put the sum total of humanity’s knowledge online. But the Authors Guild doesn’t see it that way, and has been dragging Google through the courts for the last couple of years trying to establish ground rules in the emerging e-book market, and keep the search giant from profiting from orphaned works. It seems obvious that books, particularly rare and orphaned material, should be digitized and put online, but that won’t happen without the old media kicking and screaming every step of the way, and dragging Google down with them.

Google Checkout: Need an alternative to PayPal? No? Neither did anyone else. Though it would seem obvious for Google to create a digital wallet, the service never really caught on with either consumers or online merchants.

Google Video: Any question that Google Video was an absolute failure was settled by their purchase of YouTube in 2006, a far superior service in practically every respect to Google’s offering. The ugly interface, the sometimes questionable search results, and Google’s seemingly wilful ignorance of how to properly present video online all contributed to an inferior product. Google also tried to charge for videos, something practically no one but pornographers and the iTunes Store have ever successfully accomplished.
Google Chat: Formerly known as Gtalk, Google Chat was supposed to own instant messaging. Instead, it’s become an easy way to harass people who share nothing more with you than a preference for Gmail. If a Gmail user emails another Gmail user, they can then chat via the Gmail home page or any number of IM clients. Google’s engineers probably considered this new feature as added value, but most users find it more annoying than engaging.

Knol: A Google version of Wikipedia would seem to be a no-brainer. After all, Google already has access to all the same data that Wikipedia curates, as well as enough brainpower on staff to take the work done by thousands of volunteers and automate it with a series of algorithms. But Knol instead does... the exact same thing as Wikipedia. Users write entries and “share what they know.” Wikipedia already has the mindshare and hard-working user base, leaving Knol in the dust.

The problem with Google is its engineer-dominated culture. Those engineers are undoubtedly brilliant, and sometimes their hard work and brainpower result in amazing products like Gmail, Google Maps and, of course, Google’s core search functionality. But some aspects of the internet, such as real-time updates and social networking, have less to do with engineering and more to do with people. Until Google can factor people into its equations, it’s destined to continue to fail when it should succeed. But when it succeeds, it changes the world.

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Illustration by : ASTRO
April 28th, 2010