Google has decided to close its Labs initiative as part of the company’s efforts to streamline its product portfolio and focus its development efforts.
The Google Labs website hosts early stage product prototypes that end users can try out without guarantees that they’ll work well or even exist in the near future.
“While we’ve learned a huge amount by launching very early prototypes in Labs, we believe that greater focus is crucial if we’re to make the most of the extraordinary opportunities ahead,” wrote Bill Coughran, senior vice president for Research and Systems Infrastructure, in a blog post.
During the company’s most recent earnings conference call, co-founder Larry Page, who took over as CEO in April, said that the company was in the midst of trimming its broad palette of products and services, eliminating those that haven’t proven popular and successful, like Google Health and Google PowerMeter, shut down in late June.
However, the closure of Google Labs is bound to raise eyebrows in the industry, considering that Google has always touted its policy to encourage innovation among employees and to release new products early and refine them iteratively in the public eye.
In Video: Say Goodbye to Google Labs
Also, over the years Google Labs, described by Google as a “playground” for its most “adventurous users,” served as the incubator for what later became widely used Google products, like Google Reader, Google Groups and Google Maps.
There are currently 56 experimental products in Google Labs. Some will disappear when the Google Labs website goes dark, while others will be incorporated into existing products. It’s not clear yet which products will survive and which ones will not. A date for closing Google Labs hasn’t been determined. Most of the Google Labs Android apps will move over to the Android Market.
Product-specific Labs sites, like Gmail Labs, Google Maps Labs and Search Experiments, aren’t affected by the decision to close down Google Labs, a company spokesman said via e-mail.
“There won’t be any immediate changes to in-product experimental channels like Gmail Labs or Maps Labs. We’ll continue to experiment with new features in each of our products, even as we move to retire the Labs name,” he said.
The closing of Google Labs doesn’t affect the company’s policy to encourage employees to devote 20 percent of their work time to projects of their own invention, the spokesman said.
“We’re going to keep experimenting and innovating, but we want to do it at a larger scale — so instead of dispersing our efforts across lots of isolated individual products, we’re re-focusing our efforts on projects with global impact, and making even bigger bets there. Our goal is to innovate faster than ever, and with greater impact,” he said.