Google's Past Failures Offer Perspective on Chrome OS Release

The Internet is abuzz over Google’s release of the open-source version of its Chrome OS, and for good reason. It’s free, which will save hardware manufacturers licensing fees, and it appears ideally suited for the netbooks that have become such a hot item for the mobile crowd (GigaOM Pro, sub. required). But Chrome is not without its detractors, and it’s worth remembering that Google isn’t King Midas — in fact, there’s a substantial list of Google products and services that have flopped, floundered or simply disappeared into the ether. Here are a few of the most memorable:

  • Google Lively was a web-based virtual environment that allowed as many as 20 people to sit in a virtual room and chat with each other. The offering debuted in July 2008 only to have Google pull the plug a mere four months later.
  • Google Print Ads was dropped earlier this year after the company’s vision of bringing web-like automation to the world of traditional media failed to materialize. The effort went belly-up just three weeks before the death of Google Audio Ads, which ended a three-year run in February after the company failed to gain traction in the radio ad game.
  • Google Answers spent a year in beta before a full-blown launch in May 2003, but the effort to create a fee-based knowledge market never gained much traction outside a small base of users and the service was dropped in late 2006.
  • The social networking site Orkut launched early in 2004 as an independent project of noted Google developer Orkut Büyükkökten and has caught fire in Brazil, a market that accounts for roughly 50 percent of its membership. The site reportedly claims roughly 100 million users, which is impressive, but Google can’t be happy that its effort is virtually unknown in Europe and North America while Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and others have gained such impressive traction.
  • Google Catalog Search debuted in 2001 as a way for consumers to go online to check out their favorite print catalogs that had been scanned and uploaded. Of course, retailers were already taking their inventories online themselves, and the effort was put to rest earlier this year.
  • Google Health was released as a beta test in May 2008, but the service has yet to find much of an audience among insurers or the general public. Which may have something to do with the combination of the words “health” and “beta test.”
  • The location-based service Dodgeball was shut down in 2009 after Google had acquired it four years earlier, and while Google continues to operate Jaiku — a social networking service it picked up in 2007 — the company has effectively abandoned the project. The technologies and expertise from both startups is being incorporated into other Google businesses and projects, however.

No company bats 1.000, of course, and a company as experimental and entrepreneurial as Google is bound to have its share of failures. As the blogosphere gushes over Chrome, though, Google’s stumbles help provide some perspective. Are there any other names that should be on this list?

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