This past Friday, with the weekend upon us and everyone preoccupied with events in New York and with looming anti-trust investigations involving Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), the search giant chose to quietly pull the plug on two of its projects that were once considered ambitious and game-changing.
In a blog post, Google declared both Google Health and Google PowerMeter officially dead.
As one would expect, the official reason is that both services did not see the expected level of adoption that would have made them viable long-term projects. Blog co-authors Google Health senior product manager Aaron Brown and Google green energy czar Bill Weihl described the situation as follows:
Both [projects] were based on the idea that with more and better information, people can make smarter choices, whether in regard to managing personal health and wellness, or saving money and conserving energy at home. While they didn't scale as we had hoped, we believe they did highlight the importance of access to information in areas where it’s traditionally been difficult.
So if you are one of those who have been using any one of these two Google products, you have until January 1, 2013, and September 16, 2011, to remove your data from Google Health and Google PowerMeter, respectively.
I find it difficult to understand the wisdom behind this decision, particularly at a time when the healthcare and energy sectors are going through such massive transformations. However, saying that both projects were discontinued because they got very little traction is as lame as me saying that I failed my exams because I didn’t find enough time to study. Who was supposed to generate traction for these projects? With the passing of the Healthcare Bill and the move toward electronic medical Records (EMR), one would have hope that the time for Google Health to flourish has come.
This was certainly not the planned outcome of the grandiose picture Google presented to us three years ago when it launched these two projects. Google’s VP of search and user products Marissa Mayer wrote at the time of the Google Health launch about the great benefits of the new service. As we do with all Google products, we were quick out of the blocks to hail the services as revolutionary and game-changing.
However, some experts pointed out from the onset that Google didn’t give these two projects the support they needed to succeed. On Google Health, Richard MacManus of ReadWriteWeb wrote:
Google Health is a decent entry into the game-changing (and potentially hugely profitable) world of health 2.0. But in comparison with other health startups, Google Health has a limited scope and is not as innovative a service as we've come to expect from Google.”
In other words, the market potential was there to be harnessed, but Google just couldn’t figure out an innovative way of doing it right; and for a company with such pedigree and resources, this points to a worrisome trend.
An in-depth analysis on ReadWriteWeb of what went wrong with Google Health says Google failed to encourage healthcare providers to use the service. The same may be said about Google failing to enlist utilities in support of PowerMeter.
We all know what a great consumer company Google is, but the healthcare and energy sectors are two of the most centralized and bureaucratic industries. As such, it’s simply an exercise in futility to imagine that one can make any meaningful contribution in these two sectors without the cooperation of the healthcare providers and utilities.
Google Lively, Google Buzz, and now Google Health and Google PowerMeter... the list of Google’s failed projects keeps increasing, and so too do the voices of critics who have always believed that Google just can’t succeed on anything outside of search.
— Paul Whyte is a Fulbright Scholar and was recently awarded a PhD in Civil Engineering at Michigan Technological University.