Google cleans house

A quiet Friday afternoon at the end of summer is the perfect time to kill off a batch of under-performing internet services: with any luck, most users won’t even notice.

Late last Friday, Facebook dispatched its daily deals service and Google shut down most of the applications it acquired with Slide. Now Google is at it again, throwing ten more failed experiments onto the junk heap of internet history.

The Google axe has been swung fairly widely, but a couple of trends are apparent from the latest clean-out.

One is that technological shifts have left some old initiatives looking stranded. Google Desktop, a desktop search service once seen as a key weapon in the war with Microsoft, looks less essential as data has moved to the cloud.

The Maps API for Flash is less relevant with the rise of HTML5. Google also blames the “rapidly decreasing demand for downloadable software in favour of Web apps” for the decision to kill off Google Pack (a ready-made package of software applications that included Skype, Adobe Reader and RealPlayer), though that hardly rings true given the way most people use software.

A second trend is the refocusing of Google’s social efforts into Google+. This has brought an end to the earlier “let a thousand flowers bloom” phase.

Among the experiments killed off today is Aardvark, a social search service acquired last year. Sidewiki, a browser sidebar that let users add comments to a webpage, also bites the dust. Most of Slide’s services, from SuperPoke! to the photo-sharing service Photovine, also had a strong social component.

The clean-out that began with Larry Page’s move to the CEO chair earlier this year looks like a timely corrective for a company that is always in danger of dissipating its energies on “20 percent time” initiatives.

It’s also a reminder of just how much is now riding on the success of a handful of make-or-break services, with Google+ the most important.