Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Google Software

How Google Decides To Cancel a Project 75

Posted by Soulskill
from the if-it-doesn't-sound-good-with-a-leading-g dept.
The New York Times is running a story about the criteria involved when Google scraps one of their projects. While a project's popularity among users is important, Google also examines whether they can get enough employees interested in it, and whether it has a large enough scope — they prefer not to waste time solving minor problems. The article takes a look at the specific reasons behind the recent cancellation of several products. "Dennis Crowley, one of two co-founders who sold Dodgeball to Google in 2005 and stayed on, said that he had trouble competing for the attention of other Google engineers to expand the service. 'If you're a product manager, you have to recruit people and their "20 percent time."' ... [Jeff Huber, the company's senior vice president of engineering] said that Google eventually concluded that Dodgeball's vision was too narrow. ... Still, Google found the concepts behind Dodgeball intriguing, and early this month, it released Google Latitude, an add-on to Google Maps that allows people to share their location with friends and family members. It's more sophisticated than Dodgeball, with automatic location tracking and more options for privacy and communication."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

How Google Decides To Cancel a Project

Comments Filter:
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Sunday February 15, 2009 @01:02PM (#26863991)

    Google has the benefit of having a lot of employees, a lot of goodwill, and a lot of money, so when it takes the "throw shit at the wall and see what sticks" business strategy, things have a way of working out for them.

    But would this work for anyone else? Maybe Apple.

    • by peragrin (659227) on Sunday February 15, 2009 @01:23PM (#26864143)

      Well sometimes things aren't quite right like when the shit is runny. MSFT tablet, and ultra mobile PC's, fall into this category.

      A good idea, done in by poor interface choices, barely tolerable battery life, high prices, etc.

      In the next 18 months with the emergence of touch screen netbooks with new interfaces, and more importantly low prices. you will see just how much needs to change in slight ways.

      Apple does the throw shit at the wall and see what sticks too. however that wall is normally well hidden from view. My iphone is awesome. however the number of prototypes that were built before is the really interesting question.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It's just that Apple fanboys have a poor memory of the bad shit. Evidence: Apple TV.

        Nevermind most years after the adoption of PowerPC and before the introduction of the iPod.

        • For the record, I like my apple tv. I just can't wait for them to add a browser so I can access Hulu with it...
    • by 91degrees (207121) on Sunday February 15, 2009 @01:28PM (#26864169) Journal
      It's what they call a cash cow. Large segment of the market, not a lot of growth. Piling more money into the market isn't going expand it a lot so it makes more sense to take the cash generated and invest it in other products. Apple are in a similar position with the iPod (The mp3 player market is still expanding but not as much as when the original ipod was released), and so are Microsoft with Windows.

      It's pretty much 101 business strategy stuff.
      • by Fat Cow (13247) on Sunday February 15, 2009 @01:53PM (#26864353)

        This _should_ be a cash cow for the shareholders. If these companies can't invest this money profitably then they are morally obligated to return it to the shareholders.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Morally Obligated? We are talking about money not morals!
          It is only obligatory when written ia a signed contract!

        • I find that getting a chance to speak on the conference call or at the shareholders' meeting AND actually to be listened to (they rarely give the smallholders who might each get 3 minutes during the general comment period any attention) is basically impossible for an individual shareholder at a large company. Unless you personally own 5% or more of the outstanding shares you are like the small business guy asking the bankers for a loan in those Capital One ads (you know where the small business owner is lik
        • by 91degrees (207121)
          Morally, I'd say Google's executives are obligated to do what's best for the company. Legally this is exactly the case. Now, if this was a paper mill, perhaps shareholders would be happy to just have a chunk of the revenue. In this case, shareholders were most likely aware that Google would want to expand into other markets, and this was one of the factors that increased their desire to invest in the company.

          Google is in a better position to exploit internet based technology than individual shareholde
        • by plman15 (963775)
          F*ck the shareholders: Companies are obligated to their customers and employees first.
      • by jschen (1249578) on Sunday February 15, 2009 @03:19PM (#26864885)
        This makes sense only if the new projects are, on average, equally lucrative. (Apple's iPod, for example, is highly profitable.) Otherwise, the money could be better used to generate dividends or do share buybacks. Companies can't grow bigger indefinitely. At some point, a successful company should start generating a consistent revenue stream for its owners (shareholders).
        • by rmerry72 (934528) on Sunday February 15, 2009 @06:32PM (#26865939) Homepage

          Companies can't grow bigger indefinitely. At some point, a successful company should start generating a consistent revenue stream for its owners (shareholders).

          Nope. Unfortunately that is not the way the economy works. Shareholders are not looking for revenue or profit (ie cash, dividends) from companies. They are looking for wealth. Specifically increases in the share price. That requires growth - or at least the appearance of it - and for that companies need to "invest" in new markets, technologies and products.

          A steady revenue stream will not keep your share price up as lots of investors - particularly institutional investors which make up the far bulk of share ownership today - sell out and look for higher yield stocks. Our stock market does not look at the overall size or profitability of an organisation and certainly doesn't reward over all size. The important thing - the only thing - is growth.

          And before anybody chimes in with the obvious, yes in today's downtrodden economy when most of the world is going backwards, just standing still and not shrinking is enough "growth" to stand out from your competitors.

    • by Aladrin (926209) on Sunday February 15, 2009 @01:35PM (#26864233)

      Oddly enough, the process isn't -too- different in smaller companies. You don't actually build the prototype, but since you can get direct access to the owner/boss, you can present your idea to him/her. If they like it, you'll get to build it.

      It's medium-sized companies that have the problem. They can't afford the 'see what sticks' approach, and you can't talked to the owner/boss personally, so there's no way for this to happen without some favoritism being involved. Even companies that have 'good idea' programs rarely actually get them.

      • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Sunday February 15, 2009 @02:29PM (#26864597) Homepage Journal

        That's different really. Google's approach is to build something and see what the Internet community likes. The small business approach is to pitch something and see what the boss/owner likes. A bit different.

        But at medium to larger businesses, you do get the chance to present new ideas to higher levels of management. If you pitch an idea and it gets some attention, your group can be given funding to produce a prototype.

        Still, usually no one outside the company gets to see these prototypes. There are a couple of exceptions -- in the auto industry you have events like the North American International Auto Show where prototypes are tossed at consumers and marketroids note how the media and how consumers react to the prototypes. That information fuels decisions about new models for the next few years, typically.

        But Google's approach is altogether different. First off, the vast majority of their money is tied up in infrastructure, not development. Producing a new product doesn't cost nearly as much as it would a traditional software house.

        Think of it this way: what's it take to produce an N-tier enterprise intranet app? An analyst/project manager, maybe a couple of page designers, a couple of domain experts, a 3-4 core software developers, a DBA and a systems/network administrator. And you can do it with half that if you have pay for a team of highly-experienced superstars.

        So the reason they can afford to 'toss shit against the wall and see what sticks' is because they're already spending on the infrastructure -- that cost is known and somewhat fixed. The variable part, the new development, costs relatively very little.

        • by initialE (758110)

          Vista's UAC was built on what the Internet community "likes", to use that term in the broadest way possible. People wanted security, they wanted some level of protection from accidentally hosing a machine. However it turned out that there was a huge gap between what the internet wanted and what users in general wanted in the first place. UAC is hideous by anyone's standard.

          • by damaki (997243)
            People wanted the same visual sudo as in Ubuntu, they delivered a half-baked one, only designed to be annoying. I am still trying to figure out why I should have to clic two times on "yes" when I am trying to move a file to Program Files. "Are you sure?" and "Are you really sure?" are two stupid question when put together in line. The result is that people still ignore what is written because it is garbage.

            So to come back to the subject : I you copy something people like, make a good copy. Google created
            • *still wishes that YouTube would pick up Google Video's ${VIDEO_URL}#MM_SS method of linking to a particular place in the video.*

              • by strupet (995426)
                do you know how it works on youtube? I tried this #t=xxmxxs but it didn't work sometimes...do i need leading zeros? thx
    • by thermian (1267986) on Sunday February 15, 2009 @02:26PM (#26864567)

      Google has the benefit of having a lot of employees, a lot of goodwill, and a lot of money, so when it takes the "throw shit at the wall and see what sticks" business strategy, things have a way of working out for them.

      But would this work for anyone else? Maybe Apple.

      No way. Apple try hard to give off an aura of 'hey, we're just cool guys having fun', but the reality is they are very structured and don't tend to do off the wall projects.

      There is really one guy making the decisions as to what is good enough to survive, or even be started, and that's Steve Jobs.

      Ok, he makes a lot of good choices, but they don't have anything like the setup that Google have.

      They typically launch very tightly controlled products and evolve those, adding new features as required in order to either stay ahead of the competition or to get users to re buy the latest version.

      Where they win is presentation, their stuff appeals to non geeks, so people get tricked into beleiving that Apple themselves are as cool and fun as their products and advertising make them appear.

    • by nicklott (533496)
      Surely apple are the complete opposite of that? They have like 3 products...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mysterons (1472839)

      Google has the benefit of having a lot of employees, a lot of goodwill, and a lot of money, so when it takes the "throw shit at the wall and see what sticks" business strategy, things have a way of working out for them.

      But would this work for anyone else? Maybe Apple.

      One problem with grading projects by how popular they are internally is that flashy projects get chosen over boring, less obvious but quite possibly equally important ones.

      An example: who would want to work on infrastructure which is never directly visible to the outside world?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by stevey (64018)

        An example: who would want to work on infrastructure which is never directly visible to the outside world?

        Me, but that's probably why I'm mostly a sysadmin only part-time programmer.

        Without the presence of a good infrastructure you can't have nowhere for the flashy stuff to be developed/hosted/placed.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by rmerry72 (934528)

          Without the presence of a good infrastructure you can't have nowhere for the flashy stuff to be developed/hosted/placed.

          Very, very true. Which is why most people prefer other people work on the infrastructure. Own culture idolizes those that do the flashy stuff and gives little credit to those that do the hard invisible stuff, and so everybody wants to do the flashy stuff in order to be idolized. Most people would prefer to be racing car drivers than car mechanics, even racing car mechanics.

          That's sad, ca

          • by damaki (997243)

            Any moron can drive around a track, as long as I make the car go fast and handle well enough.

            Quite true. In F1 races, they keep on changing rules every year only to prevent Ferrari from winning one more time. So, let's settle on

            Any good enough moron can drive around a track, as long as I make the car go fast and handle well enough.

      • by Kuxman (876286)

        Because it could be really, really cool. As an engineer I like "hard" problems, and when I find a project interesting I go after it -- regardless of how "flashy" it is to the general public.

        I think in Google's case, this is certainly true if you examine how much work has gone into their infrastructure (and how many research papers have been written on those topics).

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        who would want to work on infrastructure which is never directly visible to the outside world?

        I work at Google on an infrastructure project that is not directly visible to the outside world. On a normal working day I really don't care if what I do is directly visible to the outside world. I can see how this project is a good thing for our users, and I know for a fact that our founders consider this project very important, shouldn't that be more important to me than what bloggers around the internet think? The only times where it is slightly annoying to be working on something that isn't visible is w

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Supergibbs (786716)
      No, Apple might do something similar but afterwards takes whatever sticks and makes it pretty, strips out any advanced features and wraps the whole thing in proprietary crap
    • by defiek (1478245)
      Apple's business model is more or less based around planned obsolescence. They already know what works without having to "throw shit at the wall and see what sticks" as you succinctly put it. All they have to do is release a slew of upgraded products on a regular basis.
  • Obviously (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 15, 2009 @01:17PM (#26864105)

    Anything not in beta goes onto the Mad Maxian wheel. It's then spun by Tina Turner and whichever project it lands on gets thrown out.

  • If you have to recruit engineers to work on your project, that might be an indication its time to move on.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      All Google projects have to recruit engineers. It's just the Google way.

      • Re:Recruit? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SerpentMage (13390) <ChristianHGross@nospaM.yahoo.ca> on Sunday February 15, 2009 @01:47PM (#26864307)

        You know I have a product that is doing very well, and I am hoping to be bought out. Though if it does not I will have enough clients. But I digress...

        If say Google were to buy me out and the success of this product depended on whether or not I could recruit engineers I would say screw it!

        Google would have bought me out so I would have my money. And if Google is too stupid to do anything with the investment its their problem, not mine.

        I mean so I could work there twiddle my thumbs surf, and do nothing until I could leave...

        Personally I never thought too much of the Program Manager approach. Lends itself to be less focused in my opinion.

        I have found that the best companies have REALLY good visionaries who say, "lets do this, and if you don't like it its your problem not mine." Yes many companies fail, but there are many who do quite well as a result of it.

  • by basementman (1475159) on Sunday February 15, 2009 @01:35PM (#26864237) Homepage
    We need a follow-up story, "How Google decides whether or not to label something Beta". I'm guessing it involves dart boards, hookers, and cocaine.
  • Converse affirmative monkey business
  • I just thought Marissa Mayer gets to decide what flies or not.

    At Microsoft, you would need another 20% time for project management to decide what resources to recruit, how to recruit them, schedule the recruitment, and create a matrix to determine whether their 20% time was paying off.

  • I had found out about grand central right at the time google bought it. That was quite some time ago. I would love to see if it is still alive, and "coming soon" or canceled, but google is absolutely horrible at letting people know the status of new projects. Look how long it took them to take dodgeball into something released. With no information in the meantime to interested users...

  • Google, the world's largest non-evil corporation, has released Stalkertude [today.com], which allows you to share your location in real time with your dearest friends from all your social networks and blogs, that guy your friend gave your LiveJournal username to when you were both drunk and anyone you've ever sent or received a message to or from on GMail. And your boss.

    Stalkertude allows you to broadcast where you are at all times. It supports all current smartphones except that stupid iThing from Cupertino. If you'

  • Guess you better have enough pieces of flare if you want to keep your anti matter rocket engine project alive.

  • Just so everyone knows, Google Notebook lost all my notebooks one day after it was end-of-lifed. See here: http://www.google-problems.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com] I could live with this, but they don't answer my calls ...

The best way to avoid responsibility is to say, "I've got responsibilities."

Working...