Google Graveyard vs Microsoft Morgue – The Battle Of The Failures

What we can learn from the miseries of Microsoft and Google

A few weeks back, Google decided to “dump” a bunch of failed products and services. Microsoft’s head of communication, Frank Shaw (he’s a boxful of entertainment) came up with the seemingly genius idea of creating a Pinterest board (named the Google Graveyard) on which he pinned each of the failed Google products/services. Seems smart, doesn’t it? NO! The crazy idea backfired as Time’s Harry McCracken created a Pinterest board (named Microsoft Morgue) on which he pinned all the failed products/services that Microsoft had killed. The world is a harsh and difficult place, eh?

Now, I’m not here to go pro-Microsoft or pro-Google. But, I will evaluate some of the more well-known defunct products and determine why they failed and what lessons you, as a business owner, an entrepreneur or a professional, can learn from these failures. Consider it Start-Up Mistakes 101 with a humble professor (me).

Google Health

Google Health wants all my medical information!

Google Health allowed users to volunteer their personal health records into the Google Health system so that their entire medical history would be on a single centralized Google Health profile. The service lacked widespread adoption (duh!) due many factors. Amongst them, most importantly, there were several privacy concerns. Google Health was not a “covered entity” of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and hence privacy laws ensured by the act did not apply to Google Health. With the number of lawsuits being filed against Google every year for privacy violation, no one in their right mind would trust Google with information as personal as their medical history.

Lessons – Always ensure that your product or service is approved by the respective government authority applicable. So, if you’re releasing a new drug, get it approved by the F.D.R. or corresponding authority of your country. Each and every individual values his or her privacy. Explicitly guaranteeing user privacy, especially where sensitive information is involved, will greatly increase your chances of market success. Ensuring the privacy, in practice, will enhance your reputation and also prevent tedious and expensive lawsuits.

Microsoft MSN QnA

MSN QnA was a community based service. Here, a user could ask a question, tag it according to a particular topic, and gain points and reputation for answering other users’ questions. Microsoft failed miserably to develop a user base for their QnA service. This is a classic case of a company failing to challenge its competition. MSN failed to increase user incentive to return to their QnA service.  While Yahoo! Answers managed to increase its user base by 37% from 2008 to 2009, MSN QnA failed to even make it out of its beta version.

Lessons – Your competition is always going to be looking to provide something better than you. You ALWAYS have to be several steps ahead of your competition. Increasing consumer base largely depends on user friendliness, simplicity and a correct marketing strategy. In order to pull the initial users, you need to ensure that you are offering some added features which your competition is not. Always remember, if you aren’t keeping your audience satisfied, your competitor will be more than happy to.

Google Radio Ads

Via Google Radio Ads, Google purchased dead air-time from major radio stations and tried to re-sell it to companies who wished to target customers on the basis of demographics. However, Google was completely blind to notice that compared to the audience they receive on the World Wide Web every single day, the client base for Radio Ads would be barely a fraction. Why in the world would a web company which receives millions of hits on a daily basis try and shift their customer focus to a fraction of thousands?

Lessons – Google clearly failed to understand and recognize their limited potential beyond web technology. It is a classic case of over-estimating a company’s reach. Keep your company’s focus on what its good at. And, don’t try and waste resources and time in what your company has no experience with until you fully analyze all the possible outcomes and decisions involved.

Microsoft MSN Encarta

Why is Encarta a failure when it has provided us valuable information for a good decade or two?

Now, I wouldn’t classify this product as a failure. Over the past 15 -20 years, how many of us have used Encarta for class projects, finding information and just in general as a knowledge base. The Encarta contained over 60,000 articles and Microsoft ensured that it provided quality and correct information to a large user base. But, the reason Encarta deserves a mention is because it failed to keep up with changing times and technology. Wikipedia, Google and several other sources of information became much more easily accessible and were free as compared to Encarta’s encyclopedias. They completely over-ran Encarta like a herd of buffaloes making it a thing of the past.

Lesson – Keep up with changing times and technology. In this dynamic and fast-paced world, user requirements are continuously varying and so are the ways in which they are being satisfied. If you do not continue to provide the simplest, most efficient, cheapest and most optimum way to keep your customer happy, you do not stand a chance. Keep evolving your product/service as time evolves other factors around your product/service. Do not solely build on the basis of what your consumer wants now. Try and also work on what he will want in the future.

Google Lively

Google’s “Lively” virtual reality chat room couldn’t live through it all!

Google Lively was a web-based virtual reality environment which aimed to provide new ways to access information such as a chat/discussion room. However, Google’s Lively initiative failed to last beyond a few months as Google pulled the plug on this creative service. Lively failed to generate a large user base which lead to closing down of the project in December, 2008. As a result, it failed to show any promise about delivering revenue to Google. Additionally, Lively was limited to a small number of browsers and only available to only those users who had Windows XP or Vista.

Lesson – An important lesson to note here is that in terms of your product/service, never restrict your consumer base in the way Google did. Had Lively been available to other platforms, it may have generated a larger number of users. However, these what-ifs will never be answered. So, don’t leave a chance of there ever being a what-if. If you’re product or service fails to show much promise of increasing your customer base, it will not generate you revenue. And, if it does not generate you revenue in the short or long run, you will sink faster than NASDAQ did in the 2008 financial meltdown.

Microsoft Windows Live Expo

Windows Live Expo was an online social market place modeled similarly to Craig’s List. To be honest, I have been using Craig’s List for several years now and I had never even heard of Windows Live Expo. Microsoft failed to get their product out there in the market place. Another reason for its failure was that Windows Live Expo restricted users to a 25 mile radius from their current location whereas Craig’s List offers users the option of searching over specific geographic areas of their choice. Additionally, Windows Live Expo did not offer anything additional to motivate users to switch to it.

Lessons – This was a great failure and we can take many valuable lessons for it. First and foremost, no matter how big or small your company is, you have to get your product/service out there. Users need to be aware that you are offering them something so that they can use it. You cannot expect your customer to find you. You have to get out, using marketing and branding and make some noise to draw the attention of prospective customers. Secondly, and we’ve been through this with Google Lively, never restrict your customer base and never restrict their freedom and reach of doing what they want to. Restricting the user so is a recipe for disaster. Your competitors will definitely come up with similar products which do not restrict the user in any way. Lastly, if you come up with a product or service, it has got to offer something different from existing products or services. You cannot expect customers who are happy with a particular product to switch to your product if you’re not offering anything new, special or unique. Microsoft got it wrong with Windows Live Expo in many ways.

Google Code Search

Google Code Search allowed web users to search for open-source code on the internet. Now, the shutting of Code Search was a shock to me, and many fellow programming enthusiasts, because Code Search was an excellent tool to discover source code on the internet. I personally have used Code Search to get pieces of code for programs. So, you may question the inclusion of Code Search on this list. Well, the reason is that this product was doing well and had tremendous future potential as well. Shutting it down may have been a mistake.

Lessons – If one of your products/services is doing well, then recognize the fact that there is potential. As long as you are generating a customer base, there is reason to continue providing the product/service. You can figure out ways to monetize and generate revenue as the product’s life cycle moves on. But, cutting of a great product can deter many customers, especially if your company’s name or brand is not already well-established.

Microsoft Windows Live Spaces

The world of social media is probably one of the most competitive areas of the web. Windows Live Spaces was Microsoft’s attempt at social networking and blogging. Live Spaces was re-branded and re-launched 2 years into its lifetime as an effort to promote use and increase member base. However, again Microsoft failed to generate a large and loyal user base and as a result it shut down (all bloggers were given an option of transferring on to WordPress).

Lessons – There are two main lessons to learn from the failure of Windows Live Spaces. Firstly, a criticism of Windows Live Spaces was that it attempted to combine too many things into one package – social networking, blogging, marketing, data storage etc. As a result, there was no dedicated purpose for the product. While sometimes, providing multipurpose products can be a good thing, in other instances as in the case of Windows Live spaces, the product can result in failure. So, when you are developing your product/service, have a clear vision and goal of what you want your product/service to be utilized for. Don’t confuse your audience because you’ll land up losing them in the process. Secondly, as we have seen before, Microsoft simply failed to keep up with more competitive and dedicated competition (blogging platforms like WordPress and Blogger and social networking platforms). So, always remember that your competition will always be at your tail. Make sure you keep them there before they get ahead of you.

Google Buzz

One of Google’s many social network initiatives

We’ve seen Microsoft’s attempt at social networks and blogging, now it’s time to analyze Google’s Buzz. Google developed their own social network, blogging platform and messaging service called Google Buzz which they integrated with Gmail. However, even though a vast number of users possessed Gmail accounts, Google Buzz was a flop in terms of attracting them. Google Buzz was, in my opinion, a gigantic failure because Google simply refuses to learn one important lesson, no matter how many times it is taught to them – Privacy! Buzz had terrible privacy settings which allowed various breaches of user information. For example, on each individual’s public profile, one could view the list of Gmail contacts that the user had most recently or frequently chatted with.

Lessons – An important lesson to learn is that you should value your customer’s privacy. Making mistakes like these will definitely deter your clientele. No one wants intimate information displayed publicly. However, an even more important lesson to learn is that if life ever teaches you a lesson, learn from it in one instance. You will rarely be as lucky as Google were to get a second chance.

Microsoft MSN Soapbox

MSN just creating another type of Youtube?

MSN Soapbox was Microsoft’s version of Youtube. It had very little difference from Youtube in terms of features provided. The major one was probably a tighter copyright infringement responsibility taken up by Soapbox which Youtube did not provide to such extents. According to some statistics, Microsoft had managed to capture the attention of less than 2% of the online video market with its Soapbox initiative. As a result, Soapbox reached a dead end in its road and was killed off. In part, economic and financial decisions may have also been responsible for the death of Soapbox.

Lessons – Again, Microsoft has repeated a mistake twice. It invented a product which offered no new features from existing products. This lack of innovative and original features failed to make users content with Youtube migrate to Soapbox. A second lesson we can learn is that no matter how big or small your company is, when money is tight, nothing else matters. So, manage your funds appropriately, accounting for unforeseeable changes in economic, fiscal or other emergency conditions.

Some more members of the Google Graveyard – One Pass, Flu Vaccine Finder, Labs, Related, Research, Jaiku, Notebook, Friend Connect, Fast Flip, Wave, Gears and Aardvark.

Some more members of the Microsoft Morgue – Windows Live SMS, Office Live Small Business, Performance Point Server, Digital Image Suite, Sidekick, Bing 411, Bing Cashback, Round Table, Windows Steady State, Reader, Urge and Zune.

Both these lists go on further and are worth a look at the Pinterest links given in the beginning. However, both these companies have given us a plethora of brilliant products and services which we cannot even imagine living without now. Who can imagine what life would be without Google search or Gmail? Almost all students and professionals would be helpless without Microsoft Office and its sub-products. I am sure I speak for a very large audience when I sincerely thank these 2 companies for providing so much to the world and making our lives easier.

Bonus Feature

With the bonus feature I wish to talk about two current (and similar) products of Google and Microsoft. Google’s Google+ and Microsoft’s So.cl are the focus of attention here. These are two social networks provided by the respective companies’ and currently we can try and determine their success in the brutal social networking world. Even though Google+ comes with each Gmail account, I have probably entered it a handful of times just to have a look at what’s new. Google+ has failed to impress so far. It lacks the cool look which Facebook possesses and fails to provide much more to motivate users to switch to Google+. Facebook would represent the popular jock in high school who looks cool and Google+ currently stands as the uncool nerd. But, who knows, so often the nerd goes on to achieve good grades and tons of success. So.cl tries to categorize user interests into different genres. As a result, users can look up specific domains which appeal to them. However, tons of social platforms and social news sites such as Tumblr and Digg allow users to browse different categories and interests. So, again we see that Microsoft isn’t offering anything special or unique. Both Google+ and So.cl have failed to impress so far and I wouldn’t be surprised if I find them in the Graveyard and the Morgue respectively in the future.

In this battle of failures, there is only one winner. And that winner is us – the common man; due to the innumerable number of lessons we can learn from these failures. Lastly, a general lesson to learn is that everyone fails in some way or the other. And people fail several times. It’s only natural. But, don’t let that stop you from trying. Learn the lessons delivered to you. Improve. And come back stronger. Both these companies have done exactly that, even in the face of so many failures. As a result, they are among the most respected firms in the world today. After all, which one of us wouldn’t want to work in Microsoft or Google? So, keep trying and you will find success.

Advertisements