Until recently, Google was a fun company to work for. Employees were encouraged to experiment and research; employees were encouraged to spend 20% of their time on their own fun stuff. Then, Larry Page took over as a CEO last year and Google's mantra became "Social network", "Social network", "Social network". Google Labs was shut down, and everything that wasn't aimed at improving Google+ was suddenly not cool anymore. Reality? Well, mind you: this is the take of one of Google's ex employees, James Whittaker, who recently left Google to join Microsoft (which was, by the way, his original company). So, what's going on?
Other service to be halted include Google Desktop, which will cease to exist on September 14; Fast Flip will be morphed into other news services; Google Maps will no longer support Flash APIs; Google Web Security will be phased out from sale, but will continue to support its existing customers; Google Pack will be discontinued; Image Labeler will be completely shut down; Google Notebook data will move to Google Docs; Subscribed Links will no longer appear in search results after September 15 and Sidewiki will be discontinued
The rest is speculation: within Google itself, there are possibly people who don't share Whittaker's view at all. But, since we are speculating, why did Larry Page decide that Social Media was the priority #1 at Google?
Let's speculate: the tragedy of Facebook starting to serve ads
There is, no doubt, a war between Facebook and Google. The war is about relevance, and importance. And money. One major attack was Facebook's blocking of Adsense ads from their applications -- that's right, if you click on the link there, you will be taken to a Facebook page listing all the networks a developer can use to make money from their ad. Can you see anything missing? Yes, that's adsense.
The war continues. Taylor Davidson wrote a very interesting piece about Facebook starting its own Adsense competitor. It all makes sense.
Facebook already has some of the best software engineers around. They are also just about ready to be flooded with cash when their IPO goes through. If they do release their own ad network, and make it the default one for Facebook, they will start taking away juice from Google's cash cow: Adsense and advertising. That's the one half of the battle Google simply cannot afford to lose.
(No, Google is not invincible; there are plenty of examples where Google created a lot of hype, only to kill the product shortly afterwards: do you know Google Buzz? No? That's right.)
So, what's the verdict?
I think there is a good chance that Google has indeed changed, under Larry Page's leadership. It was a change that Google's workers definitely felt: when you change your company's direction so much, you have to expect some reactions.
What we don't know, is whether this move was good or not. I doubt working at Google would be much fun to work in, if Facebook did manage to take a big chunk if their advertising income; and that's assuming that you'd still be able to keep your job there.
Maybe Larry Page was right; maybe this change of direction will (or did) indeed save Google. Maybe if was a crucial effort destined to fail; maybe it was a monumental waste of time. We shall see.