Google Is Shutting Down Its Online Labs

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To focus and prioritise its product development better, Google is closing its experimental projects site

Google is shutting down its Google Labs site, which hosts experimental projects the search giant has in the hopper.

In a blog post, Bill Coughran, senior vice president for research and systems infrastructure at Google, announced the phasing out of Google Labs, saying, “While we’ve learned a huge amount by launching very early prototypes in Labs, we believe that greater focus is crucial if we’re to make the most of the extraordinary opportunities ahead.”

In his post entitled More wood behind fewer arrows, Coughran cited Google CEO Larry Page’s recent comments using those same words. Page also said, “Focus and prioritisation are crucial given our amazing opportunities.”

Pushing The Envelope Faster

Coughran said Google would continue to push speed and innovation, which have been the driving forces behind Google Labs.

“In many cases, this will mean ending Labs experiments – in others we’ll incorporate Labs products and technologies into different product areas,” Coughran said. “And many of the Labs products that are Android apps today will continue to be available on Android Market. We’ll update you on our progress via the Google Labs Website.”

And in an update to his post, Coughran added that Google has no plans to change in-product experimentation channels like Gmail Labs or Maps Labs. “We’ll continue to experiment with new features in each of our products,” he said.

Google Labs has served as a channel for some of the projects Google engineers came up with during their 20 percent time – the 20 percent of their working time that Google encourages its people to experiment and work on other projects.

A Google FAQ on Google Labs said:

“Google Labs is a playground where our more adventurous users can play around with prototypes of some of our wild and crazy ideas and offer feedback directly to the engineers who developed them. Please note that Labs is the first phase in a lengthy product-development process, and none of this stuff is guaranteed to make it onto Google’s product list. While some of our crazy ideas might grow into the next Gmail or Google, others might turn out to be, well, just plain crazy.”

The FAQ posting also said:

“At Google, we believe in launching early and often and Labs takes that philosophy to the max. The projects in Labs are intended to showcase some of our cool and wacky ideas but are not intended to be full-blown Google products. Labs experiments may be unavailable or be even removed without notice, and you may not be able to access any of your data. We recommend that you not use sensitive information in a Labs experiment. Google Labs is our playground. We try to keep is safe and orderly, but still keep it informal and, above all, fun.”

Flash New Tools

One of the more recently highlighted Google Labs projects is Swiffy, a new Flash-to-HTML5 conversion tool. Google’s Swiffy fills a void for developers who are finding themselves in situations where they have to leave Flash behind. Swiffy started as a one-person project by a Google engineering intern named Pieter Semester who was trying to figure out how to display Flash SWF animations on devices that do not support Flash.

Swiffy uses a compact JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) representation of the animation, which is rendered using SVG and a bit of HTML5 and CSS3, said Marcel Gordon, Google’s product manager for Swiffy, in a June 28 blog post. Action Script 2.0 is also present in the JSON object and is interpreted in JavaScript in the browser, he said, adding that this representation makes the Spiffy animations almost as compact as the original SWF files.

“Swiffy is a great example of how far the Web platform has come,” Gordon said. “Swiffy animations benefit from the recent advancements in JavaScript execution speed and hardware-accelerated 2D graphics in the browser. Viva la Web!”

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