Google's Dodgeball and Jaiku: The Mobile Roads Not Taken

As part of cost-cutting and internal focus and streamlining, Google is shutting down a range of under-performing, neglected or little-used services. These include:

  • Google Catalog Search
  • Google Notebook
  • Google Video uploads
  • Google Mashup Editor
  • Jaiku
  • Dodgeball

These are not the first products/services that Google has walked away from. However, the recession is making the company focus more on products and services that are more central to its objectives and abandon things that have emerged as diversions or are not as successful. 

Google acquired the "Twitter-like" Jaiku in October of 2007. Location awareness was part of the functionality of the "micro-blogging" service. Google never really developed the service or its potential. Now it says it will make the code open source for others to use and develop:

As we mentioned last April, we are in the process of porting Jaiku over to Google App Engine. After the migration is complete, we will release the new open source Jaiku Engine project on Google Code under the Apache License. While Google will no longer actively develop the Jaiku codebase, the service itself will live on thanks to a dedicated and passionate volunteer team of Googlers.

With the open source Jaiku Engine project, organizations, groups and individuals will be able to roll-their-own microblogging services and deploy them on Google App Engine. The new Jaiku Engine will include support for OAuth, and we're excited about developers using this proven code as a starting point in creating a freely available and federated, open source microblogging platform.

Google is also shuttering Dodgeball, which the company bought for an undisclosed amount in 2005. It was one of the first mobile-social networks but way way ahead of the curve. After Google brought the service it largely neglected it and others eclipsed it. Here's what the founders said when Dodgeball was acquired:

"We talked to a lot of different angel investors and venture capitalists, but no one really 'got' what we were doing -- that is until we met Google. The people at Google think like us. They looked at us in a "You're two guys doing some pretty cool stuff, why not let us help you out and let's see what you can do with it' type of way."

. . . And when they left in 2007:

It's no real secret that Google wasn't supporting dodgeball the way we expected. The whole experience was incredibly frustrating for us - especially as we couldn't convince them that dodgeball was worth engineering resources, leaving us to watch as other startups got to innovate in the mobile + social space. And while it was a tough decision (and really disappointing) to walk away from dodgeball, I'm actually looking forward to getting to work on other projects again.

There were many things that could have been done with these services, but weren't. At one time Google took what I've called a sort of "Darwinian" view of its products -- either they caught on or they didn't. The company generally allowed them to sink or swim without lots of centralized planning or promtion. There are of course high profile exceptions to this observation. But the approach was a part of Google's culture, which is now changing under the weight of recession.

I wouldn't argue it's "tragic" or unfortunate that these services are being discontinued, although Jaiku will theoretically live on. However it's an illustration that Google misses opportunities and is bogged down by some of the same "big company" challenges and inertia that affect others. It's also true that the mobile universe has evolved substantially since 2005 -- even 2007 -- and the company is now concetrating its mobile push on things like Android, the iPhone and porting its core services and search over to the "mobile Web." The company is building a kind of parallel universe in mobile.

SMS, though used by far more people than the mobile Internet, appears to be less of a priority for Google. For example, Google SMS search wasn't working last week for a number of hours; the company appeared to have a very casual attitude about the outage. (Imagine, by comparison, if Google's mobile site or app or its online search wasn't working for several hours.)

Whatever your attitude it's clear that both Jaiku and Dodgeball represent missed opportunities for Google in mobile.

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Apparently, the erstwhile Dodgeball founders are going to build a new version of the app:

So what's next? Well I don't know how many days we have left (30 days? 90 days?), but I've always said that it Google ever kills dodgeball, I'l build you guys a new one, so stayed tuned. (some of you know that me + Naveen have been cooking up some new stuff which is looking kind of hot). We'll hustle to get something for everyone to play with at SXSW.