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December 27, 2007

Google Mini-Labs

It's interesting to notice that the last important addition to the Google Labs page was Code Search, a product launched in October 2006, the same month when Sergey Brin talked about a new initiative: "features, not products". Instead of building separate products that do one thing really well, Google started to integrate the new ideas into existing products.

But adding experimental features into already mature products could cause a lot of frustration, so Google launched mini-labs for Google Search, Blogger and others products should follow. Google Experimental lets you join some search experiments and integrate them in Google's main interface. Blogger in Draft adds features that are not yet released in Blogger and gathers feedback from the early adopters. Google Enterprise Labs has new features for Google Search Appliance and Google Mini.

Gmail launched a new version in October, but unlike the previous mini-labs, Gmail 2.0 is opt-out and not everyone can have it. Google Apps admins have a new option to add the features from Gmail 2.0, but it's not yet functional:

"We're happy to announce today that we are offering domain administrators the option of obtaining new features in your Google Apps accounts at the same time as we launch to our consumer users. You'll find this option in your control panel, and only in Next Generation, U.S. English settings. We feel this option strikes a balance between those of you who would like to immediately release new features to their users, and those who prefer to wait for our team to ensure that the features are useful and stable for our consumer users before we roll them out to all Google Apps users," notes a Google Apps advisor.

When Google Reader added the most controversial feature since its launch (sharing with friends), it was labeled as experimental: "This is still a very experimental feature, so we'd love to hear what you think of it." The feature was added without offering the option to disable it, even though it wasn't a low-impact addition.

So how to innovate, how to bring fresh ideas and experiment with interesting new features without confusing or frustrating users who have high expectations from your product? An idea is to show to the general public a reliable product and have a mini-lab with features that are not yet ready for prime-time. Those who like fast changes, features that could disappear a week after the launch or those who like to discover bugs and provide an early feedback can opt-in to the beta version. So instead of having a single Google Labs, we'll have mini-labs for all Google products.

This blog is not affiliated with Google.