Google Axes Health Services, Power Meter

Dennis Faas's picture

With huge annual revenues, Google has the spare cash to try out all sort of different (often high-cost) experimental ventures. That's been demonstrated by the company's decision to dabble in health records and home energy.

In both cases Google says the problem was a failure to scale: in other words, not getting enough users to make the fixed running costs sustainable. In Google's case, scale isn't just a financial issue though: as its search success has shown, more users means more data and thus more lessons that can be learned. (Source:

Medical Records Tracked Interactions

Google Health involved users storing their medical records online and then getting automated feedback.

For example, a user who listed their medical conditions and allergies could then type in details of medicines they were considering taking, particularly non-prescription drugs, and then get details of possible allergic reactions, side-effects or unsuitable reactions between drugs.

Google Health to Close by End of Year

There seemed to be three main problems with the service.

Firstly, many people either didn't see any point to the service, or didn't trust Google to handle the data well.

Secondly, while data could be imported from some drug manufacturers and hospital groups, many users were faced with manually entering data.

Finally, it was never entirely clear how Google intended to make any money from the service: it didn't appear charging a user fee was viable and sponsorship looked to be inappropriate. (Source:

The site itself will close down at the end of this year, but existing users will be able to download their records in a range of formats until the end of 2012. Google is also working on an option to automatically transfer details to some other records companies.

Google Power Meter

Google Power Meter, on the other hand, was aimed at people who have automated electricity meters -- known as smart meters -- installed in their home.

Smart Meters allow electrical companies constant access to readings through a computer rather than having to manually inspect a meter and write down the results. Such meters are mainly used in smart grids, in which a power station gets real-time information about demand across a region and can alter its output accordingly.

The Google idea was to allow users to access this data and get more information about the way in which they use energy. For example, they could see when spikes happened and figure out whether particular appliances were proving excessively power-hungry.

They could also see how practical it would be to switch to off-peak plans by which they paid a higher rate for standard energy use but received a discount when using power at times when demand was low, such as during the night.

The Google tool will remain active until September. The company will be allowing users to download the data in a format suitable for spreadsheets and similar applications, and will be contacting registered users with more details about this process.

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