Google's Spring Cleaning: Enlightened or Misguided
Last month, Google discontinued more of its services and products in what they like to call "spring cleaning." While most of the services they chose to terminate weren't very popular, some of them like Google Reader, had loyal followers who were understandably outraged.
The wisdom of eliminating beloved products in order to focus on more successful products isn't clear cut. On one hand, you could argue that Google is doing the right thing by trying to do fewer things well rather than spreading themselves too thin. On the other hand, part of the beauty of the Internet is the ability to capitalize on smaller, passionate groups of users with niche products and services.
Google has built its business by offering products for free and then gradually monetizing the ones that are successful. Until recently, that's been basically a win-win-win for users, advertisers and Google. However, we're now starting to see the downsides of this model. Namely, what Google giveth, Google can taketh away. This happened with Google Wave and Google Reader. Google has also stopped offering free Google Apps accounts, and it's probably just a matter of time before they force businesses to upgrade to paid Google Apps accounts. While you can't really blame them, it does make you think twice about investing too much in their free services.
Take Google Plus, for instance. It can take a lot of time to manage and maintain a business page on Google Plus. Is it worth the investment? Or will Google end up pulling the plug in next year's spring cleaning? With a company like Facebook, you know that they're "all-in" because it's their primary business, but with Google it's no longer clear. Or what about Google Analytics? Do we need to worry that Google will suddenly transition that into a paid service? Or discontinue it altogether? It seems unlikely, but Google's been getting more aggressive in monetizing and/or eliminating free services.
It's understandable, maybe even laudable, when a company tries to focus its energy on what it does well. However, when refocusing, it's important to try to maintain the trust of current customers. If the company's products start to be perceived as unreliable and expendable, it will be much harder to build a loyal following.
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