Yahoo, Google: Proud Product Killers

Photograph by 20th Century Fox Film Corp./Everett Collection

When killing technology, sometimes a bat is required.

For top Internet executives, a failed project is apparently something to brag out.

In earnings calls during the past few days, chief executives for Google and Yahoo boasted about how many products they had shuttered.

Last week, Google CEO Larry Page said that during his first year since returning to the top spot, he had killed more than 30 products, combining some of them with ones that are still around. Yesterday, Yahoo Chief Executive Scott Thompson said he plans to shut down or “transition” about 50 products.

“One of the most important pieces of our strategy, and that of any business in a fast-growing market, is in regularly defining what we won’t do,” Thompson said on the earnings call.

That sounds a lot like something Apple co-founder Steve Jobs used to say, and that’s probably not by accident. (What executive wouldn’t want to be compared to Jobs, who’s considered one of the greatest CEOs?)

“I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do,” Jobs often said.

According to Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography, Jobs actually was the one who influenced Page’s killing spree. The book said that in a meeting between the two, before Page was to take over as CEO again, Jobs told him to focus on a few key products to prevent Google from becoming bloated like Microsoft. When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he shut down many projects, including the Newton personal-digital assistant, and set out to focus the business around only four types of computers.

Page acknowledged the meeting with Jobs in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. “He had a lot of interesting insights about how to run a company, and that was pretty much what we discussed,” Page said.

Since Page’s return, Google’s graveyard has become crowded. Among the dead, Google Code Search was shuttered in January; Picnik, the Web-based graphics editor, will close on Thursday; and Google Wave, the ill-fated productivity software, will go offline at the end of this month. Many of the programmers who have stuck around were reassigned to projects that incorporate Google+, the company’s social network.

It’s a similar story at Yahoo. A year ago, Yahoo sold Delicious, the online bookmarking service, to the pair that founded YouTube, and last month, Yahoo said it would close Yahoo Widgets. The company will pay about $135 million in severance to employees who are being cut, said Tim Morse, Yahoo’s chief financial officer.

That’s part of the price of embracing their inner Grim Reaper.

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