A technology blog for The Economist Group IT team

Monday, January 16, 2006

Are cracks appearing at Google? 

As Google stock grows in value, seemingly supported by the endless stream of new product launches, are the first signs of weaknesses appearing? At the announcement of "co-operation" between Sun and Google last year Eric Schmidt said that the indexing of non-web content was a big opportunity for Google. By this I took that he meant that monetisation of search results was not limited to the web.

Google's first forays into growing the universe for (Google) search were the Google Toolbar and Google Desktop Search (GDS). The Google Toolbar started this by taking the search functionality away from individual sites. It did this with the introduction of the Current site drop down - no longer do you need to be able to fathom the quirks of each site's search function. GDS took search into the world of corporate and personal data - allowing first local hard drives, then networked drives to be indexed and searched. All with the familiar Google interface.

Both of these products are now looking like they were rushed out and have holes in them that Google do not admit to (unlike the privacy issue with GDS which was fixed). I've noticed this with both tools and in searching for solutions (yes, using Google) have found that I'm by no means alone. The Google toolbar screws up pages that use CSS so that elements appear in the wrong place on the page. Despite apparantly being reported months ago, no fix has been forthcoming. GDS also has problems - most notably that it regularly takes up 100% of the CPU - when this happens it's pretty difficult to even get to Task Manager to kill the process.

Now I'm not saying that Google is doing evil here, but it does shine some light on their testing process. Google Labs and the extended beta of GMail seem to me to indicate that Joe Public is Google's tester and that even when faults are found, they don't get fixed very quickly. Google needs to learn that rushing out half-finished products to perpetuate the PR flow and thus keep the share price propped up isn't going to last for ever. The sooner it realises this the better for us all.
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