Google has announced that its Labs project, which spawned Gmail, Goggles, Maps, Reader, and other products, will be shut down. The closure of Labs indicates a stronger commitment to a far narrower lineup of projects.
The Shutdown of Labs
Labs was a way that Google could test out more minor projects, and it was often described as a "playground" where the more ambitious Google users could check out upcoming, likely unstable projects. While Labs is still around today, it won't be for long.
According to an announcement on the Official Google Blog, Labs will be winding down in the coming months. "In many cases," read the statement, "this will mean ending Labs experiments—in others we’ll incorporate Labs products and technologies into different product areas. And many of the Labs products that are Android apps today will continue to be available on Android Market."
An official close date hasn't been set, but users can see updates on the Google Labs website.
Google is Learning to Focus
My recent articles must make me sound like a broken record: Google is shutting stuff down, Google is shutting stuff down, Google is shutting stuff down. The company is certainly being liberal in its application of the axe, and Google Labs represents a big part of that. After all, Labs isn't just a Google project. Rather, it's a compilation of numerous Google projects, and an incubation chamber for small, non-core ideas.
Since Google is moving away from the strategy of "small, non-core," it makes perfect sense to kick Labs to the curb. As Bill Coughran, Google's SVP of Research and Systems Infrastructure, puts it, "We believe that greater focus is crucial if we’re to make the most of the extraordinary opportunities ahead."
Those opportunities obviously include big projects like Google+, Google Offers, and Google Music, but it's also a lot about integration. Google is seeing greater brand and design unity across its various platforms. Focusing the broader efforts of the ever-expanding Google talent base on a smaller number of projects is certain to be good for the projects that make it to the spotlight.
Many projects weren't cut, of course. The decision to trim off projects like Labs originated from a task Larry Page assigned each Googler: Provide a 60-word definition of their task, presumably so the outdated, ineffective, or minor projects could be cut from the Google playbill.
The Path to Continued Innovation
Now, I know what you're thinking: Won't this hurt Google's opportunity to innovate? Yes and no. What this will do is force Google to commit to any project that it launches, giving any (selected) fledgling idea the possibility for real exposure and success.
The innovative spirit of Google is continuing. Coughran was quick to clarify that individual projects would continue to have Labs segments (Gmail Labs, for example), and the company will continue to have its famed "20 percent time." As Googler Jason Friedenfelds told TechCrunch, "We’ll continue to devote a subset of our time to newer and experiment projects."
In a world where the market determines the potential success of a product, you need more than a good idea: You need to have visibility. By maintaining their proven tactics for the generation of great project ideas, but committing more wholeheartedly to a smaller number of said ideas, Google will have the opportunity to introduce fewer but more effective projects.