Google’s mission used to be to organise the world’s information. Although search advertising still provides the bulk of revenues and profits, the company's activities have expanded dramatically to include dozens of products. Google is now a major maps provider, owns the web's most popular browser, and has enjoyed roaring success with Android, the mobile operating system. But for each of these successes there are dozens of failures.
Anyone remember Google Wave or Orkut? Lively, Google Plus, Google Web Accelerator and Google Video are some of the other high profile products that haven’t fared as well. That’s OK; experiments may yield many failures before success.
The real question is whether Google should be experimenting so much at all. Should a search business be pouring resources into driverless cars and wearable computers?
I don’t have the imagination to answer that question but I’m surprised by how few people ask it. If any other business were involved in as many product lines and wacky ideas as Google, it would be criticised or at least questioned about misspent resources or a lack of focus. For Google, however, the quirkier the research, the more kudos it gets.
I'm not suggesting that Google shouldn't experiment, but the market seems very tolerant of its non-core activities. Would any other business get away with that so effortlessly?