Google apparently killed three of their mobile products today. Google Notebook, Jaiku and Dodgeball. I really don't get it. Less than a year ago CEO Eric Schmidt said that "...mobile will be a larger business than the PC-Web" and now he is killing mobile products!
Of the three services, micro-blogging platform Jaiku had the most mind share with a fanatically loyal user base. The Finnish startup was acquired by Google in Oct 2007 with much fanfare. Google stated at the time that
"Activity streams and mobile presence are important areas where we believe Google can add a lot of value for users. Jaiku's technology and talented team are a great addition to Google's current application and mobile teams."
In actuality, Google did nothing with Jaiku, keeping it a closed Beta and neglecting the infrastructure to the point where it became so unreliable that some of its most loyal users deserted.
To be fair, Google says they aren't actually killing Jaiku. Jaiku will be ported to run on Google App Engine and the code will be open sourced. The Google Jaiku team will continue to work on the service in their 20% time. The Google announcement is unclear on whether Jaiku will continue to run on Google's servers. There is some hope that community support will revive Jaiku and there has even been speculation that Google is developing a Jaiku like service within Android including a hint last month from Jaiku founder Jyri Engeström.
Dodgeball was another Google acquisition that was neglected and is now being abandoned. It's an SMS based location aware mobile social network. It was starting to look dated with no GPS integration and delivering SMS updates IS expensive, but I think Google missed a bet here. When Twitter killed SMS updates in most of the world, users moved to the web and mobile web and Twitter is now bigger than ever. Dodgeball could have been developed into an awesome GPS and web based product but instead Google neglected it to the point that the founders left in disgust. Now Google is killing Dodgeball too. There is some hope for DodgeBall users as Dennis Crowley, one of the service's founders, says he will build a new Dodgeball under the name "Four Square".
Google Notepad wasn't a pure mobile service, but it had a mobile web component. Notepad has some overlaps with Google Docs and Google Bookmarks so killing this one makes a little more sense than the others. It would make more sense if Google rolled the parts of Notepad that are unique into Docs and Bookmarks. Notepad's notes could be created and edited on mobile, Docs are still read-only on mobile. Notepad had useful "web-cliping" Firefox and IE extensions that let you highlight text on a webpage and create a note with it, Bookmarks has no equivalent. According to Google, Notepad is not being completely shutdown. Existing users can continue using it but no new accounts can be created and development and support for the browser extensions is ending. If you are looking for a Notepad replacement with mobile support check out Evernote (review) and Zoho .
Steve Rubel is worried that Google Reader is next. To me, GrandCentral looks to be on even shakier grounds, it's an aquistion that's been neglected, makes no money and I suspect is costly to run. On top of that GrandCentral invites are no longer available and Google has even "recalled" most of unused invites that had already been created.
I realize that a public company like Google has to answer to their shareholders who are really only interested in the bottom line. I'm sure that Jaiku, Notebook and Dodgeball were not directly making any money as none of the three carry any advertising. But the three were surely contributing to the backchannel information that Google collects about users. Information which in turn helps AdSense and AdWords, Google's main money machines, deliver relevant ads.
Some of Google's remaining mobile apps; gMail, Maps, Reader, News and Search are market leaders and Google is doing great things with Android. But there are other areas where Google's mobile efforts seem to lack focus and an understanding of the space. I've had recent negative experiences with the mobile side of two of the cornerstones of Google's business model, search and advertising. Google search lately has a hard time telling the difference between mobile and full web sites. In spite of the .mobi extension, mobile sitemap and the link rel handheld tag on every page, Google web search on PCs frequently returns wapreview.mobi pages. Conversely when I set the filter in Google mobile search to show mobile web sites only, I see lots of non-mobile wapreview.com pages. On top of that, Adsense Mobile has been broken on wapreview.mobi for three weeks and AdSense offers no support to their mobile publisher partners.
Google seemed to be on the verge of owning mobile, but lately I've begun to feel that they are loosing their edge. If you believe in a channel you invest in it, you fix what is broken and you engage in a dialog with users and suppliers. In that context killing Jaiku and Dodgeball make little sense. They were the company's only pure mobile plays in the fastest growing area in mobile, social networking. Granted there is still Orkut Mobile, but it's another aquistion that seems neglected and underwhelming of late.