NEW YORK (MainStreet) — It's easy to explain why some Google services can't compete; in a way, that endorses what Google management is doing.
Google does self-service. Anything that requires human intervention, whether that's in the form of writing, judgment, negotiation, or salesmanship, that's not the company's thing. Investors wouldn't want it any other way, because computers and software scale better than people.
Competitors take advantage of this. Most of the services I mention below are examples of just that. The problem is that Google won't admit failure. In the comapny's constant pruning of operations, the following ten services keep going. Google won't invest enough in people to make them winners, but it won't cut them off either.
See if you agree, and tell us if there are other services I should have listed.
This may be the best example of Gfail. Launched in 2002, it was tagged as beta until 2006, and still looks like one.
This news aggregator simply hasn't responded to changes in the industry. Stories behind paywalls shouldn't be mentioned. Those behind forced registration walls are just as worthless. The algorithm doesn't distinguish between old and new stories – I often see headlines from a day earlier on the top page Google News search results.
That's not to say Google News is worthless. It's great raw material for many of us here at MainStreet. But it's raw material, not a finished product.
Google Finance launched in 2006, as an adjunct to News. It offers charts, graphs, and links.
I've made more mistakes by relying on Google Finance than on any other resource. Company descriptions may not be updated for months. Financials include six-month numbers next to three-month numbers. It's very hard to adjust the time bars on the charts, to find the beginning of a move.
Contrast this with what Yahoo Finance does, using the same data. The charts are easy to manipulate. The numbers are always apple-to-apples comparisons. When companies change direction, Yahoo Finance will usually be on top of it. There's someone there, there. If there are people working on Google Finance there aren't nearly enough of them.
To boot, you don't even have to compare Google Finance to Yahoo. Just compare it to the charts, news, and features you find here at TheStreet.com. You're reading this story here, aren't you? Not there. Because there isn't any there, there.
Google Plus launched in 2011. (Google always calls it Google+ but can't make that work on a URL.) Google has wasted millions of dollars trying to turn this into Facebook. It's the source of more Google humor than any other service.
The problem is that Google Plus is built around data, not people. It's not even as good as MySpace. Google Plus may be fine for people my age, but people my age aren't looking for a social network. And even if we are, we have Facebook.
Google Plus is an embarrassment on a phone, a notorious "data hog" dragging its overhead downstream, while offering little interaction upstream. That's where Facebook has completely destroyed it.
There were rumors as this was written that, with senior vice president-social Vic Gundrota's exit, that Google Plus would be killed. That would be a mercy.
Google acquired Picasa in 2004. Instagram was launched in 2010 and purchased by Facebook for $1 billion in 2012.
This is a case where a start-up launched after a Google product blew by it, got bought, and went well beyond it. This is what happens when you just leave products to run themselves, when you don't bring them into a strategic vision.
Picasa is like the fighter Marlon Brando played in "On the Waterfront." "I could'a been somebody, I coulda been a contender." Instead, it sold out and sat on a shelf while someone else took the prize.
Hotel Finder was launched in 2011 and has a clean, neat look. What it leads to are other travel sites. There are user reviews, but very few of them. A site like Hotels.com has far more traffic, offers far more detail, more reviews and equally good pricing.
If Hotel Finder wanted to improve, it would take people on the ground either reviewing hotels, or selling hotels on the service, or at least making deals with major chains and attractions that could be advertised. The site has none of this, because Google only invests in programmers, not people.
Google Sites, launched in 2008, bills itself as a simple way to create a Web site. But it's little better than blog sites like Typepad, where I have maintained a personal blog since 2006. The main thing it has is integration with other automated Google services, like Mail and Calendar, groups many already use.
Squarespace, which just raised $40 million in a Series B offering was launched in 2004 and is now on the eigth version of software that can do e-commerce as well as content. There's really no comparison.
Google Play is a re-launch of previous failures, Google Music and the Android Market, and is the company's premier content-sales site, with music, books, magazines, games and applications.
It may seem unfair to compare it with the iTunes App Store, but is it – given Android's larger market share? The App store had revenues of $10 billion last year, five times what Google Play generated.
It's about control and integration. Apple has it; Google does not. Even in areas where you would expect Google to exercise control, like malware, it doesn't. Apple does. Maybe it's unfair to note how Apple integrates its iTunes and iOS software into its sales effort, but it's the difference between being a place people go to shop and the environment within which they live.
Google Shopping began as a search service in 2002, and transitioned into a virtual shopping mall in 2012.
The problem is you don't really know what it is, what it sells. Right now it's mostly pushing clothes and accessories. Also appliances. Will it still be doing that when you read this? Who knows? The store is barely advertised, as a store, and many people barely know it exists.
On the other hand there is Amazon.com. Do I have to keep writing? If these were physical stores I'd be comparing a gas station convenience store to the new Walnart.
Google was very late in renting out space in its cloud server rooms. By the time it got going, Amazon had taken the field by storm.
Google is now offering competitive pricing, but Amazon's proprietary Application Program Interface (API) is now an industry standard. This is a market Google should have owned, but it was so late to the game that even OpenStack vendors like IBM and Hewlett-Packard actually seem to have a chance now.
Talk all you want about Android's market share. That's entirely the work of Samsung and Amazon.
I really want to love Google, but I'm on my third Android device while my daughter is still on her first iPhone. I bought my second Nexus unit straight from Google Play in December, and her phone's battery still runs longer than mine, even though mine has more power.
I think of the comparison in terms of Toyotas vs. Fords. I don't care how good the Escort looked next to the Corolla. The Corolla worked better. Smart buyers stick with what works.
Google is a vast company that has done many, many things right. It understood the primacy of search and blew by Yahoo. It understood the importance of costs and practically invented the cloud. It understands the primacy of code over people, and it remains keenly ambitious. I own 60 shares and I'm not selling.
But Google has blind spots. Google's reach often outruns its vision. Google fails when the process it wants to build needs people, not code, to succeed. Google has a Google strategy, not product strategies. Google sometimes focuses on how things look to Google, rather than how they look to users and customers.
Like any giant, Google can be beaten. I've offered ten examples here. I'll bet you can think of more.
--Written by Dana Blankenhorn for MainStreet