Why does Google shut down products?

Why does Google shut down products? - answered by Matt Cutts

Matt's answer:

Today we have a question for Aaron Friedman in Chicago, Illinois Aaron asks, “Matt, we often hear about Google ‘killing off’ products. Why do you guys do this? Are you just being mean or “out to get” us SEOs? Sounds like there’s something bigger going on. Could you please elaborate?” This was an interesting question, and I wasn’t completely sure that I understood what Aaron meant. So I messaged him on Twitter and said, hey, when you say killing off products give me an example or two. And he mentioned Wonder Wheel, for example, or iGoogle. And so this is sort of an informal opinion, but I’ll just give you a little bit about how we think about products. In my experience, Google is pretty good about trying to explore the space. We want to try out new things. Unless you’re trying things out, like, if you’re trying to ski and you never fall, then you’re not really pushing yourself hard enough. So we do try out a bunch of different ideas. At the same time, some of those ideas are not going to work out. And so either you can see this is clearly not going to succeed, in which case it might be time to take those resources and put them into a different project, whether it be machines or productive engineers, or whatever. And sometimes something just doesn’t get enough traction over time. It can also be the case that maybe you build a product and then the internal infrastructure that we use changes over time. It evolves. I like to joke that the half life of code at Google is about six months. If you wait six months and go back to a particular section of code, half of it will have changed. So there’s a lot of stuff going on internally under the hood to make our systems better at Google. But if you happen to fork off, and you’re on a strange little evolutionary path, so to speak, and then after a while people are like, oh, that is three generations behind our current technology. And we don’t even know how to get back to where we were before, then sometimes it’s easier to think about shutting down that project or rewriting it with newer technology or folding that functionality into a different thing. So it’s just not malice. It’s not that we hate a particular project, but another way to think about it is the Google search results page. Anything that you show on that page really needs to earn its way in terms of the pixels that it uses. So we have, for example, shown various ways to have features across the years to block domains. And that’s a fantastic feature. A lot of power users use it. I’ve used it quite a bit. But if not enough people click on that link or use it, then we say, well, maybe those pixels would be better used– maybe even by white space– or by some other sort of project that we could surface to users. So it’s not the case that we’re really trying to think about, what can we kill? It’s just– we have a finite amount of resources. People don’t think of Google like that, but it’s true. We do have a certain number of people. And we need to put them on the best thing that we can think of. You don’t want the opportunity cost of working on something that looks like it’s going to be a dead end, either in terms of traction or infrastructure or whatever. So the nice thing is, if there’s something that you like and that a lot of other people like, probably, that’s going to be well supported. Something like Gmail, I love. And a ton of people use Gmail. And we continue to iterate. We continue to improve. And then if you’re using some product that, really, you don’t see a lot of usage, then that’s an area– or if you don’t see a lot of updates where maybe it’s in maintenance mode or the scripts in the computer programs are still running, but the engineers themselves have tackled other different projects. So that’s just a little bit of a viewpoint behind the curtain, very informal, not like some official kind of proclamation about why certain products or projects tend to work out or not work out at Google.

by Matt Cutts - Google's Head of Search Quality Team


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