Thursday, December 1, 2011

Buzz shutdown reflects Google’s strategic integrity

Although Google Buzz was received with tepid enthusiasm, led to a string of lawsuits against it, and ended in a settlement, the service was a natural extension of Google’s mission. More important than the reasons for its eventual shutdown, is the decision itself; pulling the plug on the project was strategic.

Google Buzz was introduced as a response to Twitter, the site on which users share messages of less than 140 characters at a time. Google launched the service in February 2010 as an add-on to its popular email service, Gmail. Buzz allowed users to share pictures, articles and individual status updates to other Gmail contacts. In addition to not differentiating sufficiently from the services provided by Twitter and Facebook, Buzz posed privacy challenges for Google, however.

Google Buzz was designed to use Gmail users’ existing networks. At its launching, Buzz made users’ “top contacts” public. The problem was that this was done automatically, and some contacts were intended to remain private. The logarithm used to create top contacts relied on frequently emailed users. Often, however, users have a number of networks--work contacts, personal and family contacts--that should be treated separately. By violating these rules, Buzz became a publicity nightmare. The service also failed to achieve the popularity of other Google products. Earlier this month, Google decided to eliminate it and a slew of other unpopular products from its lineup.

But Buzz did not represent a departure from Google’s overall strategy. In fact, it was a service that fit naturally with Google’s commitment to free products that increase connectivity for its users, packaged in a user-friendly interface. Its failure--like that of the similarly unpopular Google Wave--was due more to its late launch and poor differentiation from similar products.

When Google decided to eliminate Buzz, Wave and a list of other services, it did so in order to focus on its more established and popular products. Google’s free Gmail and mobile phone operating system Android--services tremendously popular that have achieved huge marketshare--are Google’s strength that, combined with advertising, have been very profitable. Google Buzz and Wave were plagued by implementation errors and knowing when to eliminate them reflects sound strategizing on Google’s part. Cutting these products, though upsetting to the few users who enjoyed them, freed up resources to focus on Google’ more profitable services.

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