Google is, as much as I hate to use the word and the siblings of it, an innovative tech titan that truly has revolutionized the way the internet is used by ordinary people, but more importantly, by businesses.
The day the lightbulb of an idea illuminated from whomever it was that realized the world’s most renowned search engine could monetize their results I’m sure was a blinding light that could be seen from space.
Being at the forefront of trying to change paradigms of interaction, communication, and the internet as a whole means there’s a lot of experimentation going on, and for every brilliant idea that succeeds, it’s usually preceded or surrounded by twenty inventions that fell flat.
While this isn’t a list of failures per se, it is a document of some of the more quirky and interesting projects that Google has laid to rest in its tenure.
Come take a walk with us.
Google Audio Ads (2008-2009)
Most of us are well acquainted with the notion of Google Ads, often rearing their ugly sponsored heads at the top of our search results trying to sell us taxidermy insurance as we just try to get on with our actual look-ups.
Back in 2008, Google adapted the concept of AdWords to run on AM/FM radio frequencies, thus allowing businesses to expand the reach of their campaigns beyond internet users to radio listeners.
It’s an interesting idea, but clearly wasn’t fruitful as the project was shelved after just seven months, so there was obviously no traction being gained.
Now this is a peculiar one.
To use its official description, BumpTop was “ a skeuomorphic desktop environment app that simulates the normal behavior and physical properties of a real-world desk and enhances it with automatic tools to organize its contents”.
Watching the video above will provide more context, but it essentially turns the Windows and Mac desktop into, an…actual…desktop…kind of?
I mean at the very least it’s sort of a cool thing that it can be done, but the question that lingers in the back of my mind as I stare at it is, why?
From the sounds of reports of the time reporting BumpTop’s acquisition by Google, it seemed like Google liked the look of what BumpTop were playing around with and wanted their guys to join the G Team and work on some cool projects for them.
Created by in-house engineers Christian Gruber and Alex Eagle, Noop was a brand new programming language that was designed to run on Java Virtual Machine and be a “best of both” approach, a mashup of outdated and updated languages with common and best practices thrown into the mix to be as optimized as possible.
According to the Google Code website archive page, Noop “seeks to apply the wealth of lessons of language development over the past 20 years and optimize on cleanliness, testability, ease-of-modification, and readability.”
Now I won’t manifest myself as someone who is fluent in any programming language. I’m certainly aware of them, but I don’t know what I don’t know, but I do know there’s a lot I don’t know.
Being described as an “opinionated” language, Noop was tucked into a permanent bed just shy of three active years. This was supposedly mostly due to the release of Kotlin which ticked many of the boxes that Noop was aiming to.
Flu Vaccine Finder/Flu Trends (2009-2012/2008-2015)
What would have seemed like a completely innocuous project only a couple of years ago to most of the world is much more relevant today what with the state of global health.
Two individual projects, Flu Vaccine Finder was an addition to Maps that highlighted local vaccination points in your area in the US.
Flu Trends essentially took the standard Google Trends analysis tools but applied them to proactively attempting to predict flu activity in over twenty-five countries.
More relevant than revolutionary, the latter project seems like it would pay great dividends today, with several Chinese researchers attempting to improve the Flu Trends idea with Weibo COVID-19 Trends (WCT).
Standing the test of time much better than some of the other projects on this list, Postini arguably had a much more practical and everyday use, and was more applicable to a much wider pool of users.
Starting life on the other side of the millennium, Postini was a security service for email and the web that would filter out spam messages and check for items containing malware before it would get anywhere near the client’s server/inbox. Kind of like having a virtual bouncer that would frisk most inbound things to your computer.
Lasting a respectable thirteen years, the functionality of the service was folded into Google Apps, with any remaining customers being migrated over.
A start-up originating from Israel, this project took a noisy approach to online and cybersecurity by using sound based passwords.
The founders must have been rubbing their hands together in glee after Google came knocking. However after barely crossing the six month mark and still being nurtured in the gestation period, Google has left the product out in the cold, having done literally nothing with it after purchasing it.
With FaceID now being the standard for most iPhone users and with Android’s pattern/shape drawing security features, having to whistle The Simpsons’ theme tune to unlock your phone doesn’t seem like such a farfetched idea at all.
Originally a start-up founded in Canada by the University of Waterloo in Ontario to be precise, Google snapped up the logistics focused company that provided the same service that most people know as Amazon Delivery Lockers where your online shopping packages can be delivered to secure containers if you can’t be around for a delivery.
While Google apparently intended to leave the company running as it normally did, after just two years the Alphabet-controlled overlord shut the service down, and cannibalised the company into its own Google Shopping branch.
This service isn’t an extraordinary gamechanger by any means, but it is a prime example of how much harder it is for small and start-up businesses to succeed in any capacity when entities like Google exist.
They either crush you with their inordinate size and market share or absorb you into their gelatinous mass until you’re unrecognisable or cease to exist entirely in one way or another.
Google Hands Free (2016-2017)
In an attempt to put their own spin on the mobile, contactless payments space, Google created Hands Free that allowed users to connect to payment terminals via Bluetooth. Payment was then initiated by saying the phrase “I’ll pay with Google”.
A kooky and harmless idea on the face of it, the fact that it didn’t even last a whole year shows that Google may have viewed this venture in the same light as its consumers did, that being a mild novelty.
While certainly inoffensive, the product simply didn’t really need to exist and was probably not adopted by anywhere near enough people.
For the most part, Google hasn’t sunk too many resources (i.e. workload and money) into Virtual Reality projects. SoundStage however was one such project that revolved around the concept of VR.
SoundStage would utilise the power of Virtual Reality to create a to-scale sandbox where you can essentially drag and drop various digitised instruments and musical equipment into existence, playing like a fusion of Minecraft and Beat Saber.
Seeing the project in action is undeniably cool, why it perished is unclear, and disappointing especially seeing the eruption of success that the aforementioned Beat Saber enjoyed. Users are still hoping to see features like that develop with other games too, perhaps involving their in-game currencies, like EFT Roubles that could help gain more interest.
Feel free to observe the full mausoleum of the Google Graveyard here and let us know which Google project you wish was still with us.