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August 05, 2010


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For me, the problems with Google Wave were twofold. Firstly, it was invisible. I'm a heavy user of Gmail, and you'd think that if I signed up for Wave, that it would somehow integrate with my Gmail to keep me interested. It was very easy to ignore, despite having a lot of features that interested me.

Secondly, Google Docs does just about anything I'd want Google Wave to do, whilst also being compatible with the other systems I use. It's not much use collaborating on something, if all the outputs need to be reconfigured to look right on a printer.

Chris Tregenza

I think you are being overly harsh on Google and even by your own criteria you are missing the mark.

You say "I don't think they've been innovative since about 1999"

But you also describe Google Street View as "magnificent", a product launched in 2007 and a truly groundbreaking product.

You also mistake success with innovation. Many of their products have been innovative. They just haven't been successful.

Other products like Google News (launched 2001) and Google Adsense (launched 2003) have been both innovative and successful.

Google's approach to product development is very different from, say, Apple.

Where as Apple will meticulously craft and perfect their product before launching it, Google's philosophy is one of constant, public experimentation. They try an idea, see how people react and decide what to do next. They ditch the ones that don't fly and improve the ones that do.

This approach has some downsides (it can piss people off when their preferred experiment is ditched) by has many upsides such short development cycles and avoiding pouring vast resources on doomed ideas.

But you are right on Wave being badly handled.

The problem was not the way it was released, that was a sensible approach to scaling up. The problem was hype, with claims that it would replace email, and fundamental flaws in the basic technology.

To have any hope of replacing email or becoming a mainstream tool, Wave needed to be an API. A protocol that 3rd parties can build on to create an ecosystem which all can thrive in. Just as Twitter has done and as the web and email before that.

I think the fundamental idea of Wave was good and I expect to see it resurface in some form or another. It is simply a solution looking for a problem.

Michael Phillips

"Google search is ... well - rubbish."

Phil, there was a time (a long time actually) where you really stood out as a blogger (and someone from the library field) who really stood out as worth reading.

Google search is 'rubbish'? Um, sorry, you've completely lost me there. I'm sorry, but what your churning out is now rubbish too.


Phil Bradley

Yes, it's difficult to accept sometimes that Google just isn't very good when it comes to search isn't it. Let's look at that in more detail.

Google gives different results according to capitalisation or not of Boolean operators. fish AND chips gives different results to fish and chips. Ditto for or/OR

Search functionality works differently depending on capitalisation of the syntax, so Site: gives different results to site:

There's no consistency with syntax either, so in one case we do site:.ac.uk, but filetype:.pdf doesn't work.

Can Google do proper proximity searching? No.
Can Google do phonetic searching? No.
Can Google do cluster searching? No.
Can Google do regional searching? No.
Can Google even get a basic search which uses a minus sign to give you a smaller set of results each and every time? No.

Now, if you think that makes Google a good search engine, that's up to you. Personally, I don't, and if that upsets a few Google fanbois, well, I guess that I'll just have to live with it.

Brad Czerniak

You search like a librarian, not a human. If you're doing lots of heavy boolean expressions and minus signs and all that other jazz, you're googling it wrong.

Christopher Pipe

"You search like a librarian, not a human." Well, I presume this means Phil searches logically. Logical results for logically constructed queries would be really useful!

If I fail to get from a piece of equipment the results I expected, I may turn to the instruction manual to see what I am doing wrong. Can I do that with Google when it returns apparently illogical results?

Dave Briggs

Hey Phil

I do think you're being a bit harsh here. Personally, I'm delighted that Google are happy to innovate in public, trying stuff out to see if it works and then moving on when it is clear that a project doesn't quite meet expectations.

Also, Google open source a hell of a lot of their stuff - including some of the technology in Wave - so people can learn even more from what worked and what didn't - that's kind of cool, isn't it?

I'd be the first to agree that they aren't perfect, and maybe there are downsides to their "throw loads of stuff against the wall to see what sticks" approach. But I'm delighted they are continuing to innovate publicly.

Oh, and don't forget Android, and Chrome for your list of recent Google successes!

Andrew Cooper

I was under the impression that you had to capitalise Boolean operators otherwise Google would just treat them as search terms. I guess I was wrong on this one.

Otherwise, you do seem to have a bit of a thing about Google. I agree with Dave Briggs' points - they are fantastic innovators.

I don't really care whether they bought the following or developed the technology themselves but Google Earth, Google Maps, Android on my mobile, speech recognition and (free) navigation on my mobile, Reader, the capabilities and power of Gmail, the ever improving Google Docs. As a humble, non-techie, non-librarian user these all seem to me to be phenomenal products driven by a high degree of innovation. I'm sorry to hear that I'm wrong!

Paul Hellyer

Sorry Phil, can't agree with your assessment of Google as "an astonishingly inept and incompetent company". There are very few people who would agree with that statement, including Google's competitors. And likewise your statement, "Google search is ... well - rubbish", is, well - rubbish. It may not be perfect and not have some of the features you suggest, but it satisfies that vast majority of its users. I am still, 10 years after I first used Google, stunned at the speed and accuracy at which it responds to my searches.

I don't see failure as necessarily a bad thing. Google would probably say "We didn't succeed this time. Let's see why and try again". Much more positive. People much wiser than you or me see failure as something much less negatively and more positively than is expressed in your blog. See http://thinkexist.com/quotations/failure/.

And dismissing that those who disagree with you as merely "fanbois" is, I think, rather patronising. Most of those who have responded to your blog have signed with their full names and have left intelligent comments. It is one thing to disagree with some of your readers, but to imply they lack critical thinking is, as I say, rather patronising.

Jimmy Frederick

I empathize with you, Phil, in your Google discontent. I agree with commenters that there are still good Google products being released, like Reader, Chrome, and Android. But mostly, I think Google is getting by on their fame. They implement search tools far too late in the game to be considered innovative. I can't believe Google Images was so poor for so long, or that there wasn't a date filter in searches sooner. Even GMail's latest features like drag and drop, while being welcome additions, are not "innovative". They are just examples of a huge company that is keeping mildly up to date technologically.

Google used to be innovative; now they rely on branding to pull in an ever larger segment of the public to view more targeted ads. Their acquisitions are smart in terms of capital, but stagnant in terms of innovation.

I wonder how many people were working on Google Wave. The product seemed to advance slowly, as if it was a part-time endeavor that was often put on the back burner. I agree with Chris that something that includes rich media and live communication will resurface someday. It was ahead of its time. Maybe Apple will find a purpose to this kind of project in five years (tablet PCs anyone?).

Phil Bradley

Goodness, what a hornets nest! First of all - it wasn't my intention to patronise anyone - it's not really something that I do, but I apologise to anyone if they felt that - the 'fanbois' comment was intended as mild amusement, nothing more.

As for Google search being a failure - there is SO much that it doesn't do, which other engines do, as I've previously listed. Perhaps I'm setting higher standards for Google than I should - I don't know. However, looking at how rich search is/has been/can be with commercial database packages, I don't think it rates. But I stand by my comment - if you try and exclude search terms you should get a *smaller* set of results, not a larger one. Search syntax should be consistent. Operators should work properly regardless of capitalisation. These are absolute basics arn't they? A search engine that can't do it properly is broken. That it's consistently been that broken for so long is not, in my opinion, acceptable.

With regards innovation. Yes, I'd happily admit that Google has done good stuff, but most of what I see now is mirroring what other people are doing - the image search function being an obvious example. I'm all for anyone or any company trying new things, and if they get it wrong, they get it wrong. That's good. However, when they pull things as quickly as they do - Lively and Wave being two obvious examples, that's not helpful to anyone. Seriously - giving Wave less than a year before pulling it - how helpful is that? That doesn't look like a company interested in learning from their mistakes, it looks like a company trying to brush them under the carpet. It's the 'ex-Googlers' who seem to be doing the interesting stuff, not Google. If I want to see innovation in search, Google is not the first place that I expect to find it.

Gary Sparks

Phil, nice overview as usual. Just skimming through the comments thread, 'Fanbois' is a new one on me, might try and slip that one in at the next Managers Meeting!

Nice article, wasn't aware of the proximity/phonetic/cluster etc deficiencies, interesting, although I can't see most of Google's target audience ever using these. But interesting nevertheless.

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