Top 10 Google Wins and Fails of 2011 (So Far)

We're only halfway through the year, but Google has already had its share of successes and failures.

Google's Wins and Fails

Google wouldn't be Google if it didn't spread its eggs among an extraordinary number of baskets. Of course, this means that some of Google's projects are, inevitably, huge flops, while others turn out to be big hits. We're only halfway through 2011, and Google has already had its fair share of both.

Let's take a look at Google's biggest successes and failures of 2011--so far.

Win: Google+

Despite a losing record in social networking (see the next slide), Google recently unveiled Google+, its most ambitious effort yet. The social networking "project," as Google calls it, lets people send messages to tightly-controlled groups, or "circles" of contacts, but the real potential lies in tying Google+ to other services, such as YouTube and Google Docs. So far, people are taking the bait: Despite the service's invite-only status, over 20 million people have reportedly signed up.

Fail: Buzz Privacy Settlement

Google's spotty social networking track record was due partly to Google Buzz, which mimicked Twitter by letting users send short notes through Gmail. Almost immediately after Buzz's release, privacy complaints abounded, thanks to the discovery that users' most frequent Gmail contacts were made public by default. In March, the Federal Trade Commission charged Google with deceptive privacy practices--and Google quickly settled the case, agreeing to 20 years of having its privacy practices monitored by the government. That's a win for users, but an embarrassment for Google.

Win: Les Paul Guitar Doodle

Google's commemorative doodles always attract lots of attention, but the June 9 homage to guitar legend Les Paul really struck a cord by letting users strum and record samples on virtual strings. In response to user buzz, Google gave the doodle a permanent home, much as with the Pac-Man doodle that become a phenomenon in 2010.

Fail: Honeycomb

Roughly one year after Apple introduced the iPad, Google revealed its answer in Android 3.0, also known as Honeycomb. Since then, some half dozen hardware makers have launched their own tablets using Google's software, but while iPads continue to fly off store shelves, there's little evidence that Apple's competitors are getting much traction. Don't count Honeycomb out of the tablet game, but don't call Google's tablet OS launch a big victory, either.

Win: Chromebooks

Despite mixed reviews, the first batch of Chromebooks has been selling well on Amazon, and that's a significant feat for Google's far-out concept of a computer that's little more than a Web browser. The Chrome OS software may need some fine-tuning, but Google believes that Chromebooks represent the future of computing, and a significant number of people are ready for it right now.

Fail: Google Music's Weak Launch

For years, rumors abounded that Google would launch an answer to iTunes, but when the company introduced Google Music in May, it was little more than an answer to Amazon's own Cloud Player, which launched a month earlier. Both services let users store and play their music from Web-connected computers and smartphones, but Amazon at least has a digital music store to match. Google failed to make deals with record labels, and without a way to purchase new songs, Google Music seems undercooked.

Win: Google's New Look

Alongside the launch of Google+, Google gave makeovers to many of its other sites, including Search, Maps, News, and Gmail. The redesign emphasizes bold red text, big blue buttons, lots of white space, and a dark banner on top with links to other Google services. The changes look good--Gmail especially--and seem to have avoided the user backlash that website redesigns often invite.

Fail: The Nortel Patents That Slipped Away

Google was its usual playful self as it tried to get more than 6000 patents owned by the bankrupt telecommunications company Nortel, placing successive bids of $1,902,160,540, $2,614,972,128, and $3.14159 billion. (Those digits represent, respectively, Brun's constant, the Meissel-Mertens constant, and pi.) But its bids weren't high enough, and the patents instead went to a consortium that includes Apple, Microsoft, and Research in Motion--Google's biggest rivals. Patent wars are all the rage in the tech industry, and chances are Google will someday have to spend serious amounts of money to defend itself from the patents it failed to get.

Win: Getting ITA Software

The U.S. Department of Justice gave the go-ahead to Google's acquisition of ITA Software--with conditions--in April, to the dismay of companies such as Expedia and Orbitz. Although Google hasn't launched any travel-related products yet, the DOJ's approval nevertheless allows Google to become a major player in the travel search business.

Fail: Picking on Bing

Google's allegations that Bing beefed up its search engine by copying obscure results from Google certainly didn't look good for Microsoft, but they didn't make Google look so great, either. Here was the world's dominant search engine picking a fight over search terms like "hiybbprqag." It didn't make Google's product any better, and if anything, it gave Bing a little free publicity when satirist Steve Colbert lampooned the slapfight on television.

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