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Google Health, PowerMeter Cut From Life Support

The once-promising Google services are being retired because too few people used them.

Slideshow: The Top 16 Google Services
Slideshow: The Top 16 Google Services
(click for larger image and for full slideshow)
Google on Friday said it plans to discontinue two of its services, Google Health and Google PowerMeter.

Google Health will linger on through January 1, 2012. User data will be preserved for an additional year. The lights go out for Google PowerMeter on September 16, 2011.

"Both were based on the idea that with more and better information, people can make smarter choices, whether in regard to managing personal health and wellness, or saving money and conserving energy at home," said Google senior product manager Aaron Brown and green energy czar Bill Weihl in a blog post. "While they didn't scale as we had hoped, we believe they did highlight the importance of access to information in areas where it’s traditionally been difficult."

The insufficiently popular services join other notable Google misfires, including Google Wave, Lively, and Google Video.

Uses who wish to save their data before it vanishes can go to the respective websites and download their information in supported formats. Google says that in next few weeks, it will be adding support in Google Health for the Direct Project protocol, an emerging open standard for health data exchange.

When it launched Google Health in 2008, Google emphasized how thoroughly it planned to protect personal health data, offering "complete control over your data" and promising not to sell or share users' data without explicit permission.

But privacy worries weren't what kept consumers away. "[Privacy] wasn't actually a significant concern we heard from our users, and it wasn't a significant factor in our decision to retire the service," said a Google spokesperson via email.

Google first expressed interest in health information in 2006, when then VP of engineering Adam Bosworth wrote about the need to organize medical information and make it accessible, a need that Google should have been well-positioned to meet given its similarly worded mission statement.

Google Health had the potential to become a lucrative market for Google: U.S. healthcare spending accounted for $2.47 trillion in 2009, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and health information is vital to clinical outcomes, research, and marketing. It could have been an advertising and data mining bonanza, if it had ever caught on.

Google's retreat leaves the field to Microsoft, which made its own foray into the health information business in 2007 with the acquisition of health search site Medstory and the launch of HealthVault.

Like Google Health, Google PowerMeter died of neglect: "Our efforts have not scaled as quickly as we would like, so we are retiring the service," explained Brown and Weihl.

The service was supposed to help people save energy by allowing them to monitor home energy usage more easily. But the third-party metering hardware was not simple to set-up and few utilities participated in the project.

But rather than mourning Google's deceased services, we should celebrate them, provided not too much money was wasted. Innovation is messy, and you don't get hits like Android without a few misses.

The Healthcare IT Leadership Forum is a day-long venue where senior IT leaders in healthcare come together to discuss how they're using technology to improve clinical care. It happens in New York City on July 12. Find out more.

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