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Google Puts Lid on New Products

Realizing that its myriad services are confusing users, it will focus on refining what it has.

October 06, 2006|Chris Gaither | Times Staff Writer

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — In another sign of Google Inc.'s growth from start-up to corporate behemoth, the company's top executives said Thursday that they had begun telling engineers to stop launching so many new services and instead focus on making existing ones work together better.

The shift is a major departure from Google's previous strategy of launching new services rapid-fire and highlights the 8-year-old company's struggle to stay focused during swift growth.

Co-founder Sergey Brin is leading a companywide initiative called "Features, not products." He said the campaign started this summer when Google executives realized that myriad product releases were confusing their users.

"It's worse than that," said Brin, Google's president of technology. "It's that I was getting lost in the sheer volume of the products that we were releasing."

More than 50 products in various stages of development are available across Google's websites. There are so many that the company has collected 35 on a site called "More Google products," which includes digital maps, instant-messaging software, programs that speed up Web surfing and even a search engine for mail-order catalogs.

Analysts said Google was fighting a problem that had historically plagued technology giants, many of which became so enamored with innovating that they forgot to create products that people would really use.

"They created a bunch of crap that they have no idea what to do with," Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group, a Silicon Valley consulting firm, said of Google. "What a huge waste of resources."

Google admitted this year that its internal audits discovered that the company had been spending too much time on new services to the detriment of its core search engine.

The initiative's primary goal is to make Google products easier to use, especially by packaging disparate products. For example, said Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, Google plans to combine its spreadsheet, calendar and word-processing programs into one suite of Web-based applications.

Google became famous for its simplicity, winning millions of fans with a mostly white home page and simple search box.

Flush with cash after its initial public stock offering two years ago, Google scooped up hundreds of software engineers and began releasing new services at a dizzying pace.

"The result occurred precisely because we told these incredible engineering teams to run as fast as possible to solve new problems," Schmidt said. "But then that created this other problem."

Surveys showed that Google users could recall a half-dozen or so products, Schmidt said, but "they cannot remember 35."

The company does not plan to tell engineers to halt all new products, Google said, nor does it plan to kill little-used services.

Rather, the effort is more focused on future development. After launching the initiative this summer, Schmidt said, Google canceled several services in development -- which he would not describe -- and instructed their creators to instead make them features in other products.

"That is a big change in the way we run the company," Schmidt said, describing Google's previous attitude as, "Just get this stuff built and get it out -- don't worry about the integration."

Enderle, the analyst, said that attitude showed as search engines such as Ask.com and start-up Chacha.com introduced innovations that Google lacked.

chris.gaither@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Small slices

Key players' share of the online mapping market, based on number of website visits

Mapquest: 56.3%

Yahoo Maps: 20.5%

Google Maps: 7.5%

MSN Virtual Earth: 4.3%

Google Earth: 2%

Others: 9.4%

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Source: Hitwise

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