Can Google still innovate like it used to? A growing number of important voices doubt it.
Take for example the reaction on March 21 when Google switched on Google Finance, a Web site to gather real-time personalized financial news and information like stock performance and financial reports.
Not a lot of people liked it. Typical of the scores of commentary to follow is this one: "Google does well, not great, but well," David Jackson wrote on The Internet Stock Blog, after giving Google Finance a quick tryout.
These are so-so ratings that highlight a broader point. As many critics now believe, Google Finance is part of a string of recent features from Google that have failed to live up to expectations, or in some instances match competitive offerings.
Taken in total, that leads many to question whether Googles lost its cutting-edge development chops, which is a major advantage that it has over competitors.
These doubts may be an indication of difficult times ahead for the worlds leading Internet search provider. Without head-turning applications, Google is going to find it tough battling against leading Internet portals Yahoo and Microsofts MSN, or so goes some of the Google commentary surfacing in reaction to Google Finance.
It also may miss out on new revenue opportunities. Features like Google Finance, or Googles similarly panned Google Video, offer opportunities to sell premium features on top of the freely available ones. But without an eager audience, revenues are sure to be limited.
"Google cannot be incrementally better," wrote Om Malik, the Business 2.0 writer and author of a popular technology blog. "It will be a long time, and I mean long time in Internet years that is, before Google Finance really catches up to Yahoo Finance."
As for Google Finance, CBS MarketWatch reporter Bambi Francisco wrote that some members of the financial community gave a "thumbs down on Google Finance… Its not that impressive."
It hasnt been all negative reviews for Googles innovation level, or Google Finance. Bloggers chiming in on Google Finance, for instance, like the fact that you dont need to know a companys stock ticker to get financial information or a way to compare how a news story affected a stocks performance.
"The new Google Finance service is really slick," Jef Nolan writes on the Web site Venture Chronicles.
But very few seem floored, a far cry from the days when Google was consistently introducing jaw-dropping, market shaking facets like its Gmail e-mail, Google Earth and Google Maps.
"The bottom line: I see no advantage to using this product over Yahoo finance," writes The Hawken Blog. "I see many disadvantages. This falls far short of what it could have been."