One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Google (News - Alert) is their enterprising spirit, most often on display in Google Labs. Every once in a while I browse on over there from my Gmail just to see what they’re offering, testing and tinkering with. But that same visibility I appreciate in Google’s R&D can serve to turn the company into a joke for others. Most recently, columnist Mary Jander at Information Week wrote an update on Google’s one gigabyte broadband expansion plan, titled “Google’s Grand Fiber Plan: Cue the Eye Roll.” She has a point: Google tends to go big with announcements and then lets projects die quietly, which many companies also do but few at Google’s pace. Apple releases One Big Thing at a time in a big press announcement, Microsoft (News - Alert) makes consistent, small changes, and other tech giants tend to just update current products (think mobile phones, tablets or game consoles.) Google bounces from G+ to national fiber broadband to social networks to—who knows what?* They’ll throw just about anything loosely connected to tech against the wall to see what sticks.
So what have we missed in the world of Google could-have-been’s? Many still remember Reader, arguably Google’s largest side-offering, which was shuttered in 2013, but things like Dodgeball (a location based social media portal similar to Foursqare) and Google Answers (a community based question and response portal) passed by with nary a ripple. Perhaps that’s because so many of Google’s small endeavors seem to replicate things that are already being successfully done elsewhere. G+ is perhaps the most famous, and despite all its press about creating more specialized circles of contacts it primarily serves as an alternative for people who get frustrated with Facebook (News - Alert). And for that subset of the population it does really well. Google Glass is certainly impressive, but again we’re all still trying to figure out how it improves our daily lives enough to make it worth the steep price. In the space between project announcement, field tests, and affordable production copies we could all just move on to the next big thing.
Something similar has been said about the planned Google broadband fiber network, which began with a broad invitation to cities to serve as test sites which garnered over 1,000 responses. Four years later, beta networks have been launched in just Provo, UT, Austin, TX and Kansas City, KS. Three cities in four years: Google is just lucky SpaceX (News - Alert) didn’t decide to get into fiber in the meantime! Author David Talbot points out that the supply and demand may once again be Google’s hurdle, since residential users aren’t yet to the point of filling up all that network space. Netflix released information that locations with the fastest download speeds are streaming the HD signal just fine at three point eight Mbps and their servers can only stream at five Mbps anyway. Unless you’re a frat house with thirty people trying to stream HD video at the same time it just may not be worth the cost to upgrade service. And while businesses certainly could benefit from the one gigabyte service there has to be enough large organizations in a municipality to support the cost of the infrastructure upgrades.
Of course Google may just be ahead of the curve and once word gets out about the reliability and cost of the service the fiber broadband network may become the new normal. Until then it seems more than a few people are waiting until Google’s cry actually produces a wolf we can all see.
*If you do love following Google’s R&D check out Project Tango, their newest venture into 3D modeling for mobile devices.
Edited by Cassandra Tucker