For all the company's overall success, some of its individual entrants sometimes seem not just lagging and wanting, but sometimes just plain... off.
I'm not so much talking here about sites like Orkut and Google Video that were more-or-less representative of and competitive with social media and video sharing sites (respectively) at the time they came on the scene. They simply didn't rise to the top of the pile for complicated and somewhat elusive reasons that would make for another long discussion.
However, other examples from Google just seem oddly out of tune.
Take Google Browser Sync for example. Social bookmarking may be the red-headed stepchild of social media, as I've written about previously. But that's an opportunity for Google. So what do they do? They come up with some relatively lame mechanism to share bookmarks among multiple computers. I might have found this useful five years ago. However, for many people (especially those who worry about coordinating multiple computers), bookmarks have become something to be stored in the network rather than locally. At least if you aren't storing the content as well as the URL, it's not like they're much use if you're disconnected from the network cloud anyway.
And then there's the peculiar case of Picasa. At the end of the day, Picasa is much more about a simple image cataloging and editing program for the PC than it is a vibrant online photo site. Strip away the client component and it feels awfully first generation--a place to store some snapshots for a few friends and family than a place to participate in an online community. Think Snapfish, not Flickr. Nor does it have any of the more sophisticated tools that sites like SmugMug and PhotoShelter offer to better cater to more serious amateurs and pros.
Indeed, if one were to look at these two examples in isolation, one might be inclined to think that Google doesn't even get social media, Web 2.0, all that good stuff. After all, the counterexamples like the Google Earth community are rather sparse.
But it's worse that that. It can be useful to have a client-side application--that's the reality and, in any case, Picasa has one for reasons of history as much as strategy. But Picasa so often feels like its design center is that offline component rather than the online one. Does Google even have a truly coherent vision of computing in the Cloud?
Google has a decidedly mixed record with its acquisitions (including Picasa). But it's too bad that it's probably not practical at this point just to snap up the Flickr photo site and del.icio.us social bookmarking. Their owner, Yahoo, has certainly never known what to do with them. But Yahoo is a competitor and the tumult around Microsoft's attempted acquisition likely makes any such move impossible. Too bad.