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Opinion: Top 10 Google flubs, flops and failures

Among all the success stories of the huge and unorthodox Internet company are some that are, uh, not so much

By Tom Spring
May 21, 2008 12:00 PM ET

PC World - Google Inc. is arguably the most successful Internet company today. But Google didn't get to where it is without takings risks -- some of which have failed spectacularly.

For example, remember the Google Accelerator, which was supposed to speed up Web surfing? (A dubious claim, but least it was free.) But you had to pay to get a Google Answer, and eventually people stopped asking. Google Video did so well that the company finally gave up and shelled out big bucks to buy YouTube LLC. If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em.

Some Google flops lasted no more than a day and then vanished without a trace. Other Google efforts have been left to languish like a neglected orphan inside Google's labyrinth of Web services. Still other dogs were released as betas nearly five years ago and are still trapped in Google Labs with apparently little hope of escaping the test tube.

A Google X-File: Google X

One of the most mysterious of Google's flops was its Google X site, a redesigned Google search home page that was styled after the Mac OS Dock user interface on OS X. On the bottom of the page was written "Roses are red. Violets are blue. OS X rocks. Homage to you." The site, which launched in 2005, lasted one day before being shuttered by Google for no public reason. Google X may have been pulled because of worries that Apple's copyright lawyers might not appreciate the "homage." But Google X has lived on with many Internet users cloning the interface for anyone to use.

Google Catalog: Ready for recycling

Interested in seeing what the latest prices for USB flash-based drives are? Google Catalog's top search result links you to a 2001 Micro Warehouse catalog where a 256MB Trek ThumbDrive Pro will run you $595. Google Catalog has been in a perpetual state of beta since 2002, and currently its most recent catalog offering for a search on "laptops" delivers a Cyberguys Spring 2006 catalog. Google Catalog now works more like the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine than like a place to browse and see before you buy.

Google Video Player is off the air

At one time, Google thought we needed yet another application to download and play videos on our computers. Married to the company's online service Google Video, the Google Video Player's chief advantage was that it could play back video encoded using Google Video File (yet another video file format that Google thought we needed). But it supported video playlists, and it allowed you to skip ahead in a Google Video even if that portion hadn't downloaded yet. It turned out that the Web was already being well served with video players. Critics dinged the Google player for poor organization of video clips, paid content that varied too much in price and its inability to transfer video content to portable devices. In August 2007, Google yanked the player from the Google Video Web site.

Google Web Accelerator: Time saver or waste of time?

Google's Web Accelerator is a combination of something you don't really need and something that may compromise your privacy. The software is still offered by Google and promises to speed up page load times of Web pages by as much as a less-than-stunning 20%.

Reviewers said that the target audience for Google Web Accelerator, broadband users, already can retrieve Web sites fast enough. And from the start, privacy activists such as Richard Smith accused Google of using Web Accelerator as a market research tool. Smith said, "They'll be looking at what people are doing on the Internet, what they're reading, what they're buying? There's potentially a lot of information just from the click-stream of the URLs people visit."

Question: What happened to Google Answers? Answer: It flopped

For five years, Google Answers allowed anyone to post a question along with a bid price they were willing to pay for a researched answer. A prescreened group of Google Answer researchers would accept the fee (or not) and if they did accept the offer, answer the question.

Along with well-heeled high school and college students, I was a big fan of the site. Answers were usually complete, well researched and well written. But quality isn't always rewarded on the Internet. Google just couldn't compete with Yahoo Answers, a free service that relied not on paying customers, but on a mammoth and loyal Yahoo community. Google's official Google Answers response to the question "What has happened to Answers?" is "There is no answer at this time." Google may not be accepting your questions, but you can still search the database of answers.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2012 PC World Communications. All rights reserved.
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