half-assed Google products

[NB – As I have been writing and editing this post, Google already updated their Docs application suite to make it a bit more functional.  I haven’t done a lot of real-time editing with someone else so I don’t know if it’s any better, but the point is that this post might be irrelevant before I do eventually hit “publish.”

There is also the chance that other items about which I complain will be addressed quickly.  Finally, this is all based on the premise that Google has done little to show true strategic planning from their somewhat haphazard roll-out of products.  Not everyone agrees with this view, and I know that.]

I’ve mentioned before that I think Google lacks strategic planning, and that their tactical moves suggest disorganization and or potentially fatal decentralization in pursuit of freedom to innovate.  First-to-market is an important achievement, and FULLY ACKNOWLEDGE that perhaps that is the one and only driving force behind the release timing of many Google products.  But let’s put that item aside for now.

With the release of Google Docs for Android, which makes their own (half-assed) product on their own operating system somewhat more usable, I thought I would take a moment to examine the number of products that the company has launched that have potential that has been too long in realization or that have just floundered about, without a clear path to success.

Google Docs

Everyone lovs Google Docs.  Everyone thinks they can do anything.  I think they are seriously flawed and are perhaps one of the best examples of what seems like a serious lack of commitment to a potentially critical set of tools.

Where to start?  Limited support of styles for Documents?  How the Spreadsheets cannot match Excel in any way for sheer calculation power?  Or, the biggest of all – the “lie” that is “real-time collaboration.”  Have you ever actually worked on a document in real time with someone else?  Just to have everything you wrote suddenly vanish and have your team-mate’s content appear instead?  It’s confusing, discombobulating, and more hype than substance.  Collaboration, great.  Real-time, not so much.

As overall products, Google Docs are already questionably effective, and arguably much, much more hype than substance.  What makes them worse is a truly pathetic implementation of cloud-based storage via Docs.  It’s great that now we can load all kinds of files into Google Docs – not just Word or Excel ones.  Files are also kept in their native format, rather than being converted to a special format for editing in Docs.  But the concept is so counter-intuitive, it cannot help but seemed tacked-on.  Let’s see if this syllogism works:

  1. Google Docs has “file types” called Documents and Spreadsheets – that means stuff like Office files, right?
  2. When I click on “upload,” the option is for files of any kind – it’s not limited to only Office type files (and we’re familiar with how most dialog boxes will pre-select .doc, .xls files when looking for Office files)
  3. Therefore, a product called Google Docs that lets you create artifacts called Documents and Spreadsheets is logically the place to store all kinds of files, not just documents and spreadsheets.

#3 does not follow, unless you’re the guy trying to tell potential users that it does.  It just doesn’t make sense.

Until they come out with “Google Space for Crap that Includes Docs” then I won’t buy into this implementation of general file storage.  Give me Dropbox, box.net, or a direct S3 client for that.

And let’s look again at how only today has an Android app for Docs been released.  This is Google’s mobile OS.  This is a company with massive development resources.  And it took them this long.

Google Apps for [some kind of organization]

What?  Doesn’t Apps include dedicated implementations of Gmail and Calendar?  I’m attacking that?  AM I INSANE?

No.  Please note that I say Google Apps, not specifically Gmail.  Gmail is, for the most partl, fine.  I’ve used it for work and it gets the job done.  I’m cool with that.  It does need tighter integration with Docs and, in that sense, we’re seeing the silos of innovation (I think) that eventually started pulling 3M apart.  But overall it’s okay.  Just don’t let it wander off, please.

But have you tried busy search in Google Calendar?  Good for you.  Because it is there.  But Apps was rolled out before Busy Search was available and that is NOT ACCEPTABLE.  It was a half-assed product for organizations until they added that.  So this is kind of a retroactive half-ass designation, but it was a critical feature that was missing at outset.  And that still speaks to questionable strategic planning.

Google Wave

What the heck were they thinking here?  Did they have a plan?  Did they propose how it could be used?  Did they tie it into an existing strategy?

We know the answers already.  Don’t bother with the effort.

All of this goes back to my fundamental point – Google certainly has strategic planning in place in certain areas, but I question how comprehensive that planning is, and I flat out do not believe that there is coordination between product groups.  I don’t think Google Docs is spending time talking to the Google Apps folks, about how to integrate everything together into one product or line of products.  Office 360 seems more logically integrated than all of this.

More power to Google.  I hope that we don’t all turn into a Facebook-led world (defined as one where we do what FB says only because of their massive user base, not because something actually is the right and/or best option or not) and Google is best positioned to push back.  I do wish Google would release products that were actually complete, rather than giving us what I think are maybe 99% there, with the last 1% filled by the brand itself.  Telling me it’s from Google doesn’t make up for that missing 1% of critical functionality.