How not to do product strategy

I don’t get Google’s messaging strategy. I don’t think any one else does. I doubt folks within Google get it.

How else do they explain the latest move? Hangouts will no longer be visible in Gmail, instead you’ll have Chat. What is chat now? It’s another app within another logic and everything.

Let’s do a quick recap of how we got here. Once up on a time, Google had Google Talk, which most people used to call Gcha, because that’s what it was. The great thing about it was that it used XMPP, a protocol that meant it could operate with other chat apps. Nice!

At some point in time, Google decided they needed to consolidate everything under Google+ umbrella. Instead of revamping Google Chat a bit, they decided to throw everything out and re-do it to suit Google+ and thus Hangouts were born. It was slower than Google Chat and it was not fun. Who wants a messaging app that was laggy? Obviously adoption fell and Facebook messenger, Whatsapp and the likes started gaining ground.

At some point, Google felt Hangouts was failing as it did not have SMS fall back like Apple Messenger. This is a feature that was relevant in US alone, but that is what Google decided to focus on and it lead nowhere.

So they spun SMS feature to a separate app Messenger, while Hangouts continued to be chat based on email ID login.

The time is now 2016 and they felt that things were still not working with Hangout and launched two more apps Allo and Duo. Allo had some Google now type capabilities built in for chat and was based on mobile number, like Whatsapp. Duo too was based on phone number, but did video and only video.

Allo was cool, but it could not get traction, because people had already adopted to Whatsapp. No one wanted to change and AI gimmicks are not just as big a pull as Google thought.

Meanwhile Google was pushing this technology called RCS which would provide SMS fallback and internet based chat on the same app. This feature was added to Messenger app, but in places like India SMS apps are being used strictly for SMSes, so no one really cared. Google however decided that was good enough and set Allo also to rest with a commitment to slow security updates and no further development.

Hangouts app meanwhile went through multiple rounds of changes that were so confusing that it’s not even worth getting too into. The end result is that there is a B2B product, the video feature is pulled out and rebranded, meanwhile Hangouts for regular gmail continued. The jist is that no one could make sense of anything.

Somewhere in between all this Google felt that it had to compete with Slack and Microsoft Teams as well so launched Google Chat. Okay then.

So we are now in 2020 and pandemic mercy meant that B2B feature like Hangout video, sorry I meant Google Meet, is publicly available and so is Hangouts and so is Messenger. Now we hear that Google Chat will replace Hangouts in Gmail, which means that Hangouts is now gutted out and left to die a slow death. Unless of course Chat is a super failure and then they kill Chat and being back Hangouts.

It’s like Game of thrones, you never know what twist lies ahead and who gets knifed here. What a mess! If only Google had focussed on Google Talk and kept improving it for a decade.


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