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Labs Go Dark as Google Puts Away Childish Things

Labs Go Dark as Google Puts Away Childish Things

Google has shuttered its Google Labs project, the birthplace of products like Gmail and Google Docs. While those services will remain intact, Google has opted to shift into a more focused style of product development. The focus on solid developments closer to Google's core is one that new CEO Larry Page has stuck to in his first few months at the head of the company.

By Rachelle Dragani
07/21/11 11:18 AM PT

In a continuing effort to streamline product development, Google announced Wednesday the company will be shutting down its Google Labs project.

The Google Labs initiative was the tech giant's testing facility, where employees and engineers were given creative freedom to tinker with experimental projects that perhaps didn't necessarily fall within their job descriptions. The emphasis on encouraging innovation and imagination was seen as one of the core elements that separated Google from competitors.

Labs was the birthplace of popular products that are now mainstays of the company, such as Gmail, Google Maps, Google Reader, Google Docs and some Android apps. But for all its success stories, Google Labs had its fair share of flops, and the company now believes prioritizing its development efforts is the best strategy going forward.

Greater focus will be necessary in order to capitalize on upcoming opportunities, according to Bill Coughran, senior vice president for research and systems infrastructure at Google.

Many projects that have stemmed from Labs that are now solidly in place, such as Gmail, will continue in their current capacity, Coughran emphasized in a company blog post. Now, he pointed out, much of the development in Labs is devoted to apps for the Android platform, and those will continue to be available in the separate Android Market.

Google did not respond to TechNewsWorld's request for further comment.

Streamline Approach

The focus on solid developments closer to Google's core is one that new CEO Larry Page has stuck to in his first few months at the head of the company. He promised to put "more wood behind fewer arrows," and the first services to get axed after that proclamation were Google Health and Google PowerMeter in June.

Google Labs followed. While it perhaps came as a bit more of a surprise, given the pride Google puts in its spirit of innovation, some outsiders were supportive of the move.

"It seems like there can still be a focus on these tangential projects that can be feasibly free-spirited, so this is a positive. It doesn't mean you stifle creativity or stop giving engineers some freedom to experiment, but this is a big business, and the search business is obviously still their mainstay, so there's got to be some focus on that," Martin Pyykkonen, senior analyst at Wedge Partners, told TechNewsWorld.

There is likely still plenty of innovation to be had in the projects that already exist and more importantly, bring in solid revenue.

"Google's best opportunity for market-changing innovation lies in its ability to craft clever integrations of its existing technologies. I believe the closure of Google Labs is indicative of greater focus on fusing Google technologies in Search, Mobile, Commerce, Local, Social and Ads," John T. Shea, former Googler and vice president of strategy for the Rimm-Kaufman Group, told TechNewsWorld.

Going Forward

Possibly one of the best ways for Google to continue its creative combination of innovation and business is to home in on display advertising. Since the company is often lauded as an imaginative tech giant, people sometimes forget the revenue that drives that existence is based on advertising.

"There's a lot to do in the core business, especially in display advertising. The advertiser is the ultimate customer. Google is such a technical powerhouse, but their entire revenue is advertising, so as long as you don't get to the point of stifling things, this focus is really a positive," said Pyykkonen.

Google+, the company's newly launched social network trying to tackle the likes of Facebook and Twitter, is also a big test for core development going forward. In order for the network to survive, the company needs to be able to keep it up to date with the evolving social networking world. If the venture is successful, the revenue, page time and advertising customers the site will bring in could be an indication the streamline approach at the company was a good decision.

"The big test is how Google+ is going to do. If, in some time, it's made great inroads and has taken away some of the growth of Facebook, it can be pretty clear that Google is going to be continuing as a leader," Pyykkonen told TechNewsWorld.


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