Schemer, a little-publicized service from Google that allows users to "discover new things to do," is apparently no longer worth doing for Google (Schemer's tagline is "The beginning of everything worth doing"). According to the Jan. 10, 2014 post by The Schemer Team on its Google+ page, Schemer is being shuttered on Feb. 7, 2014. In the post, the team says the service offered by Schemer has been partially supplanted by the Google Maps features Explore and Field Trip.
Google Maps is itself the subject of considerable consternation, with the abrupt removal of the Search Nearby feature. Search Nearby was removed from Google Maps in an update that was rolled out last year which adds tighter integration with Google+. Google issued a workaround to the feature removal after a great deal of user complaints, but this doesn't come close to the ease or accuracy of the original Search Nearby feature, according to users.
The abrupt removal of features or discontinuation of entire products is nothing new for Google. Google Answers, a service that allowed users to post bounties for well-researched answers to questions, was discontinued in December 2006 after four years. Code Search, Reader, Latitude, and iGoogle were all popular Google services that were abruptly discontinued without any particular replacement for their original function. In many cases, discontinued products are shoved aside for enhanced replacements, such as the closure of the mostly ignored Google Friend Connect in favor of the deeply unwanted Google Buzz, itself closed in favor of the often criticized Google+, which has burrowed into other Google services to widespread disapproval, including from the cofounder of YouTube. (Note: Google Friend Connect closed for non-Blogger sites on March 1, 2012.)
Google+ has also infected Google Talk, which has been shuttered and subsequently rebadged sans proper XMPP compatibility as Google Hangouts, and Gmail, in which Google+ connections are now valid email recipients.
The rationale behind such closures are always somewhat opaque, with little business rationale provided as to why products are discontinued. Overall, the abrupt discontinuation of services at Google seems primarily motivated by a simple lack of interest in continuing to operate the service, not out of concern for legal liability or patent violations, as Google continues to litigate from legal problems surrounding the Android operating system. That isn't to say that all of the discontinued services are tragic losses: Google SMS Search and GOOG-411 have no real purpose in the age of smartphones. Gmail Notifier, a desktop widget that alerts users to a new email in their Gmail account, will be discontinued as of January 31, 2014. Google Pack, a disparate collection of software only some of which was actually produced by Google, was little more than "a bunch of stuff that Google's wrapped a rubber band around," according to RedMonk analyst James Governor.
Google's track record for tossing anything it can at potential punters and then taking it back just as quickly is starting to hurt Google's image among consumers. The record for introduction and subsequent removal is the App Ops permissions tool that launched in Android 4.3 and was removed in 4.4.2, a time of availability spanning roughly five months. The phenomenon is even widespread enough to merit a Pinterest group called Google Graveyard, which is an archive of all of Google's killed services and features.
Up to now, the services Google offers all relate in some way to the transmission of information through the Internet or through phone lines. That is to say, Google has for the most part stuck to building products that make sense for a search company to make. This doesn't seem to be the case moving into 2014, however. The first major product announcement made by Google in the New Year comes completely out of left field: a contact lens that measures glucose levels for diabetics. In fairness, it's not the first time a technology company has made a healthcare-related product, but it is anyone's guess as to if or when this will be discontinued.
Have you been let down by Google abruptly discontinuing a service? Are you dismayed by the slow creep of Google+ into other existing services? Let us know your thoughts about Google in the comments.
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James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.