What happened to you, Google?

What happened to you Google main

When I moved to Oregon five years ago, Google Picasa became my de facto way to share photos of my adventures with friends and family back home. It had a robust downloadable editor I could use to tweak and caption photos without being online, copious storage, and slick Web-based galleries I could easily share with a single link. 

Then Google rolled Picasa into Google+ and broke everything by trying to shove me onto its gimpy, dysfunctional social network.

Now when I go to share photos, Google insists on doing it as a Google+ “post” and asks me which of my Circles I would like to share with. But my parents aren’t in my Circles. Nor are half my real-life friends – the smart ones. I want a link, and Google won’t give it to me anymore without hunting madly through its broken interface and (ironically) forcing me to Google Search for the answer. Want to change a cover photo? Good luck finding that option. And did I ask for this undeletable stack of “Profile photos” mixed in with my neatly organized travel photos? No Google, I did not.

What the hell happened to you, Google?

Decline of an empire

In my current state of frustration, it’s easy enough to forget, but Google and I used to be inseparable. After my first Google Search somewhere around 9th grade, there was no alternative. Yahoo and AltaVista just never looked the same after poring over results for “Limp Bizkit lyrics” in Google, which was presumably the type of thing I was searching for around that time. Then came Gmail with enough storage space to make me forget the “delete” button forever, and Google Maps, which made MapQuest look like the work of 12-year-old cartographers laboring away in MS Paint. The more Google products I tried, the more I liked, and after seeing Google set the gold standard over and over, I gave up on even trying competitors. I’ve been swaddled in Google’s comfortable suite of services ever since.

The service I once trusted to filter spam out of my email now dumps in its own.

Except it sucks in here now. With the majority of the Web now embracing its products without batting an eye, Google is starting to act less like the ambitious, wide-eyed Silicon Valley upstart it was and more like a lazy, fat-and-happy corporate behemoth coasting on its past successes. Think General Motors circa 2001.

Google’s best products are crumbling, it’s turning off the lights on others, and introducing “new” services that are nothing more than ripped-off ideas from better companies. Don’t believe me? Get out of your Pontiac Aztec and open your eyes.

Welcome to Gmail, have you heard of Google+?!

Losing Picasa was annoying, but changes to Gmail feel like Google decided to rearrange my bedroom for me while I was at work. What used to be a spotless haven for my most personal communications has become increasingly cramped with Google+ clutter, like a list of “friends” I haven’t talked to in five years spewing down the left-hand column, and a tiny bell up top that turns red whenever (multiple times a day) someone (nine out of ten times, I don’t know them) adds me to their G+ circles.

Meanwhile, my Gmail “promotions” inbox now helpfully fills with promotions stuffed in there by Google itself. The service I once trusted to filter spam out of my email now feels entitled to dump in its own. Google must be taking cues from the US Postal Service, which as far I can tell, stopped delivering relevant mail in 2004 and is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Papa John’s.

Sorry, were you using that?

Maybe I shouldn’t complain about Google’s meddling. It could be way worse. Instead of subjugating Picasa and Gmail as peasants that only exist to serve the Google+ empire, Google could have just guillotined them entirely, as it’s doing with iGoogle. Having my weather, email, and headlines on page when I started my browser was nice. Now Google is lopping it’s head off, presumably because my one-stop-shop for everything interesting to me should now be my Google+ homepage, right?

Other casualties include Google Wave, Google Buzz, and Google Reader, the last of which has left a raft of refugees looking for alternatives that other companies have capitalized on. Google used to lure people over from inferior services when it did something better. Now it sends them scuttling back out into the world when it closes them down. 

The sincerest form of flattery 

Google isn’t just ruining old services, either. When it rolls out new services, its strategy these days seems to be sloppily duplicating competitors rather than bringing anything new to the table. 

Remember when the Chevy Prizm was just a rebadged Geo? 

Google Music has virtually the same exact song catalog as Spotify, and doesn’t allow you to share as effectively. Google Drive apes Dropbox, but makes a mess of Google Docs in a halfassed attempt at integration. Google+ … do I even need to elaborate on this one? Google’s shameless replication of Facebook is the penultimate example of its recent recent lack of creativity.

It gets better

As much as I would like to conclude this downward spiral with the sad resignation that we’re all doomed, there’s actually a bright spot: Google isn’t the US Postal Service, and we have other choices we can switch to at any time. 

Google’s best products are crumbling.

Which is what I did after my last maddening attempt to send my parents a simple Google photo album of a trip to the beach. Driven to blind rage by Google’s insistence on using Google+, I turned to Yahoo’s Flickr, which is looking pretty slick after a recent makeover, and sweetening the deal with a free 1TB of storage. A couple clicks later, my parents had my photos, and thanks to Flickr’s “guest pass” functionality, they never even had to sign up for anything. Crazy! 

I’ll still be back to Google for Maps. And Gmail, you know I could never leave you. But Google, consider yourself on notice: You’re losing your mojo. You can’t keep dribbling out crap and pretending its ice cream (or whatever corporate-sponsored dessert you’re hawking now). We’re smarter than that. We bought Hondas and Toyotas and Subarus after the windows stopped rolling down in our Cavaliers at 50,000 miles. And we’ll snub your dodgy, poorly engineered, defective products too.

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