Google Fail: 5 of the company’s biggest flops – and how they’ve sculpted future successes

Ultimate List

Google is absolutely excellent at failing.

The search engine giant still has many successes – I use Google Maps several times per week, as well as its image search. And, duh, what I don’t know, I “google.”

But in spite of – or, perhaps as a necessary step toward – Google’s great successes, it has had as many or more flops, flubs, and failures as any other company I can think of. Here are 5 of my favourite.

google fail

1. Google Coupons

The idea was neat, but traction was never gained. Google Coupons was done through Google’s “Local Business Center,” which this year was renamed “Google Places” (well before Facebook Places). Basically, it encouraged businesses to insert an online coupon into Google’s system, which would be integrated with Google Maps. So when a user zoomed in on or searched for a business through in Google Maps, they would find the coupon automatically, and potentially use it. In theory, it should have worked well, but most Google Maps users reported never seeing even one coupon during the program’s duration.

Google has since successfully implemented similar features, where company’s can list their hours of operation and contact information. But the deals are dead.

2. Google Catalog Search

Again, a neat idea with poor execution and humiliating results. Google Catalog was not well designed, especially for a smart search company. For example, in 2008 PC World reported that the perpertually beta-staged Catalog search system was utterly useless:

Interested in seeing what the latest prices for USB flash-based drives are? Google Catalog‘s top search result links you to a 2001 MicroWarehouse 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.

The effort shut down in January of 2009, and the general consensus was, “About time.”

3. Google Web Accelerator

Launched in May of 2005, momentum for Google Web Accelerator never existed, primarily because users found the product to be one, or both, of two things: utterly useless, and a possible invasion of data privacy. The speed boost was hardly noticeable and targeted a demographic that was already largely satisfied with the speed at which it surfed the web. Concerns over personal information being tracked was a crippling concern that Google never addressed – instead, it just gave the program the axe.

Google no longer offers downloads or support for Accelerator as of 2008, and has since neither launched nor announced similar products to this.

4. Google Answers

Google Answers allowed any web user to post a question and attach to it the price they were willing to pay for an answer. From there, a group of trained researchers would either reject or accept the fee. If they did accept the offer,they would then answer the question in a complete and professional manner, kind of like Brain Maven today.

But Google couldn’t compete with the free alternative Yahoo Answers, which creatively relied on a huge (and loyal) community of web users who were willing to answer each other’s questions at no charge (and still do today). So users asked, “What has happened to Answers?” 

Google Answer’s answer? “There is no answer at this time.” The service has been dead for years, but you can still search its database of answers.

5.  Google Buzz/Wave

This is one conglomerate mega-fail that’s still alive and kicking (for now). Google Buzz and Google Wave both generated a lot of hype as they neared beta, and when beta came out, users were simply begging for invites. Everything seemed to be aligned with Google’s ambitious vision for the software, which would combine to revolutionize the way the world communicates in real-time. They were – or rather, are – social and collaborative tools that allow for text and video chat, and team-based project management. I, along with many others, was highly impressed by the potential Buzz and Wave.

Then they launched. And nothing – really, nothing – happened.

Nobody used it after it went live. Everyone went back to their old methods of communication: email, social networks, Skype, etc. The Buzz died, and the Wave crashed.

From failure to success

It’s easy to laugh at Google for these failures and their many, many more (Orkut, anyone?). But if Google was afraid to try new things, would we have the magnificent Maps? Would we have the awesome Analytics? What about Gmail… what about Android OS?

Making mistakes are actually an extremely good way to progress, but only if you can learn from them. And that’s been Google’s ultimate success story: converting past failures into future successes.

Have you ever turned a failure into success? Comment below.