Googles Moves Stir Unease

 
 
By Ben Charny  |  Posted 2006-01-16
 
 
 

A sentiment is growing among Google Inc. customers and industry observers that the famously innovative company may have lost its touch.

The gathering unease about some of Googles moves was summed up by a contributor to the Web site Techdirt writing about his disappointment with Google Video, the Mountain View, Calif., companys new video download feature.

"Has Google lost its magic pixie dust?" wrote Mike Masnick, a frequent poster to the site popular with the technorati.

This and other decidedly negative critiques of Googles new free and for-pay video download feature, introduced earlier this month, carry a broader suggestion that Google Video isnt just a one-time miss.

Rather, its evidence that Googles Midas touch with online features has been missing in action, and that should worry Google, its investors and people who rely on its products at home or work. "For some reason, people keep expecting Google to do something earth-shatteringly iPod-like, completely transforming the way people think about the company," wrote Andrew Goodman at Traffick.com, a search engine blog. "Do they have it in them? Maybe, but the new Google Video store certainly isnt it."

Google has been hitting home runs since its debut in the mid-1990s as an uncluttered search engine that was easy to use, which was a novel look and feel at the time.

Innovation poured out of Google labs like water from a fountain. It seemed that almost on a weekly basis there would be a new feature such as AdSense, the revolutionary Google system for placing ads on Web sites, or Google Maps, with its unique way of maneuvering around an online map.

But in the last year or so have come some missteps. Some technologists suggest Google began losing its edge last year when it unveiled Google Talk, its instant messaging feature.

Google Talk is serviceable, but its downright ordinary when compared with the IM features from Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp.s MSN division and America Online Inc. that have found room on hundreds of millions of PC desktops, say critics such as Gary Price at Searchenginewatch.com. And now comes Google Video. Technologists critiquing the feature, unveiled at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month, point out many problems.

Among the more commonly noted problems are a limited number of videos to choose from, download bottlenecks and a kludgy user interface. Other issues include not being able to authenticate an account.

Perhaps the most significant problem is Googles archaic means of protecting videos copyrights, said Price. A proprietary video player and a username/password system frame the way Google plans to protect the copyrights of videos it will soon start selling, according to new details emerging.

Whatever the concern, Google Video is leaving a rather bad aftertaste. "Is it my imagination, or is this the first really bad product that Google has launched?" wrote Dave Pell in his blog, Davenetics.

Google didnt respond to an e-mail message seeking comment.

"Part of Googles charm was that, even though all their products were in beta, many of them still had that wow factor," the Techdirt posting said. "So, cruising around the early reviews of Google Video—mainly from people who tend to be Google supporters—suggests something has gone horribly, horribly wrong."

Innovate or die

* Jan. 6 Google Video, a video download destination, and Google Pack, a means to improve users online experience by providing enhanced performance and protection for Web surfers

* Aug. 24, 2005 Google Talk, Googles IM client

* May 20, 2005 Google Earth, keyhole three-dimensional mapping software with aerial imagery and Google search results

* Feb. 8, 2005 Google Maps, traditional mapping features, such as the ability to zoom in and out and to retrieve driving directions

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