Posts Tagged ‘Network’

Google’s new year clean-up

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

There have been many reactions to Google’s announcements that they will cut back on services and shelve several of their pet projects. I have to admit that I am actually not familiar with several of the services that are being shutdown and they are already lots of well-informed comments for each individual project, so this is more a general comment.

I understand the need for a company to focus on its core assets and shut down products which bring little revenue, especially during a downturn. In fact, I wonder why it took them so long to deal with Google Video given that YouTube is a lot more popular and offers a similar service. It was a redundant service, so I guess they could have merged it or removed it a lot earlier — they didn’t have to wait for the credit crunch.

I am sure that the same could be said for other services.

But it did not seem to be the case of several other services that were given the knife. A lot of bloggers felt that projects like Jaiku or Google NoteBook had a lot of potential and were never given a real chance; which led to speculation about Google’s intention in the first place — was it just to acquire new talented development teams? If that is the case, this confirms that Google is adopting the conventional strategies. Fine.

But I wonder if Google may also be shooting themselves in the foot…

Rationalising a network of services

A few years ago, I became really interested in small world networks: an example stuck to my mind because it was counter-intuitive. In one of the books there was a chapter about transport optimisation, explaining how having some lines operating at a loss enabled other lines to be more profitable, therefore generating a global profit.

There were several examples of transport networks eventually collapsing because instead of evaluating the network as a whole, lines were evaluated individually and independently. When non-profitable lines were chopped off or the frequency of service was reduced to reflect attendance, users would start looking at other options. But they would also stop using other lines which would then became less profitable. As the rationalisation process would continue, other lines would be chopped off until only a handful of profitable lines would survive or none at all. Globally though, the network system would not generate any more revenue, but it would provide a lot less service and not necessarily more efficiently.

It was because the structural properties of the network ensured that the whole structure was sustainable; these non-profitable lines were not valuated properly. The network had to be rationalised as a whole to be made more efficient, not purely assessed based on individual lines: management had failed to understand that these services were interdependent and what it meant to remove them. Commuters did not want to go just from one station to another, they wanted to go from one place to another and would choose the transportation means that best suited their needs.

What does that have to do with Google?

I certainly don’t think that Google is going to shrink anytime soon due to some drastic cost-cutting — they are smarter than that and I am sure that they do consider each project carefully. And of course, they have every right to shut down any service they please, they run a business after all and most of these services are provided for free.

But I think they may be neglecting the interdependence between their products and the relationship with their users. People don’t want to use just that particular service, they are trying to find solutions to their problems. Google uses the Web to provide solutions and I believe that the interconnected nature of the Web should make them consider business rationalisation differently.

One reason why we use Google services instead of others, is not necessarily because they are better but because we feel Google is more reliable. A start-up could go bust and since I don’t want to lose my data or change my habits, I will be more hesitant before committing to one of their services. As Pisani mentioned on Transnets (in French) , there is a moral contract between users and Google: by interrupting some web services, we are reminded that maybe we should not entrust the Internet giant with all our online documents, emails, blogs, videos, feeds, applications, etc…

We are in an interesting transition period where the Web is supplanting the Operating System as a development platform. By shutting down these services even if they operate at a loss, Google is giving a cold shower to those who believe in moving applications to the web and were counting on Google to spearhead the move. The trend towards web-based applications is not going to stop, but we now have a reason to think twice before using Google’s services and their APIs.

I am still glad that there are companies out there like Google to beat new ground, but their recent house cleaning is a good reminder that if we follow, we may also need to backtrack.