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July 2, 2008

Taking Features Away From Users

Ryan Singer wrote an interesting post titled "Features are a one-way street". The main idea was that "once your user base has grown beyond a certain point, you cannot take features away from them. They will freak out. Whether the feature is good or bad, once you launch it you've married it."

Google is a company that launches many features and services "in beta", tests them for a while and then decides whether it's a good idea to continue developing them. Some of the Google Labs projects were successful, while others were discontinued or they were integrated in other experiments.

In a talk about innovation, Marissa Mayer mentioned an idea that came from Eric Schmidt: "don't kill projects, morph them". I don't know how many people miss Google Voice Search, a service that allowed you to search Google with a phone call, or Click-to-Call, a simple way to call businesses for free directly from Google Maps, but both services are the predecessors of GOOG-411. The cool Google Deskbar was partly integrated in Google Desktop, the SOAP Search API was replaced by a REST API, Google AdSense Referrals was superseded by the DoubleClick Performics Affiliate Network, while a replacement for Google Answers is being tested in Russia and China.

Other products were discontinued without offering a replacement: Google Video Store, the photo sharing service Hello, Google Browser Sync or the "Send to SMS" feature from Google Toolbar and from Google Send to Phone.


For Google, features aren't a "one-way street" and you never know when a functionality you start to rely on is removed for unknown reasons. That's why I think Google should label experimental features more prominently and it should do a better job at communicating the reasons why a service is dropped.

18 comments:

  1. Um, I miss Click-to-Call! It was great for avoiding long distance charges.

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  2. A feature I've been missing is the ability to chat with other users editing a collaborative document in the document window itself in Google Docs.

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  3. I still use Send-to-SMS in the Google Toolbar for Firefox... are you suggesting that this feature will be taken away soon?

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  4. your comment process sucks ballsack. I just wrote a post, and the system deleted it while forcing me to check in. Nice going asswad.

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  5. B.M.: You are an idiot.

    StareClips: They have discontinued working on Send-to-phone, as you know it still currently works, but for how long is the question.

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  6. I miss Google Deskbar :(

    PS, speaking of the comment form (which is great btw). Is it just me or is the Google Account CAPTCHA too hard even for people?

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  7. I regret that I had to enable CAPTCHAs, they are annoying and sometimes difficult to solve. Last week, a spammer or a spam bot posted 123 identical comments in a couple of hours and I had to manually delete all of them.

    Blogger doesn't provide too many options for managing comments. For example, I can't edit the comment #5 and deleting the comment #4 would make the reply difficult to understand.

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  8. I dearly miss the "Send to Phone" firefox add-on in firefox 3. Anyone know of a replacement out there? I have an email address on my domain that forwards to my phone but it's another step that I would prefer not to take.

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  9. @more the delayer

    I am still able to chat with collaborators in google docs. There is a "discuss" tab in the top right corner for it.

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  10. Regarding Send to SMS, this web page works and my version of Google Toolbar still includes this feature, but Google said it will be disabled.

    There are many services that let you send free SMS, including Gizmo SMS (worldwide), Text4Free (worldwide), TxtDrop (US/Canada).

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  11. @Ionut alex chitu

    Thanks for the google sms links. I'm wary of giving my cell phone number to those other sites. I dread getting put on some sort of SMS spam list.

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  12. @Thomas Paine

    That is strange. Since Google Docs began displaying the new interface discussed on the post linked below, I have not had this feature:

    http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2008/03/google-docs-gets-menu.html

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  13. Writely (the word processing component of Google Docs) has never had a chat feature. The option to discuss with the collaborators is only available in Google Spreadsheets. Writely lets you add comments inside the document.

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  14. The one-way street analogy might not apply to Google as they have a different business model - free to end users, revenue generated from advertising.

    If you're running a paid service however your customers opinions must have more weight in considering whether to drop a feature or not.

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  15. Also, Google are answerable to their share holders, not the visitors to their free services. "freemium" small business owners that aren't publicly listed are only answerable to their customers.

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  16. Where is the Google Video Player? It was a very good tool for downloading part of videos/movies. They discontinued it without any reason or notice!

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  17. Google Video Player has been developed for a single purpose: so you can play premium content bought from Google Video Store. You could also use it to play .gvi (AVI) files downloaded from Google Video. The video store has been closed, you can no longer download AVI files, so Google Video Player was purposeless.

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  18. i definitely agree with you ....
    I miss "Edit Profile" from Contact (messenger) bar

    ...
    and there ore other features too ...

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