Google CEO Sundar Pichai, speaking at the Code conference last week, suggested the tech company needed to become 20% more efficient – a comment some in the industry took as a sign that cuts in workforce may soon be on the table. Now it looks like the prediction is coming true. TechCrunch has learned that the company is cutting projects from its internal R&D division known as Area 120.
The company informed staff on Tuesday of a “downsizing” that will see the size of the incubator cut in half, as half of the teams working on new product innovations learned that their projects were cancelled. Previously, there were 14 projects housed in the 120 area, and that number has been reduced to just 7. Employees whose projects will not continue have been told they will need to find new employment with Google by now. the end of January 2023, or they’ll be terminated. It is not clear that everyone will be able to do this.
TechCrunch learned of the changes from a source with knowledge of the matter. Google had a chance to comment and missed the deadline; a statement is pending and we will update it when provided.
According to Area 120 head Elias Roman, the division aims to focus solely on AI-focused projects, as opposed to its previous mandate of powering product incubation across Google.
Over the years, the division has launched a number of successful products, including the HTML5 gaming platform GameSnacks, now integrated with Google Chrome; an AirTable rival called Tables which was released on Google Cloud; an AI-powered conversational ads platform AdLingo, which has also been released to the cloud; the Tangi and Shoploop video platforms, which exited to Google Search and Shopping respectively; online travel app Touring Bird, which left Commerce; and a technical maintenance platform Byteboard, a rare external spin-off.
One of the projects being phased out with the changes is Qaya, a service offering web storefronts for digital creators, launched late last year. Similar to the “link in bio” solutions available today like Linktree or Beacons, Qaya has also integrated with Google Search and Google Shopping. It can also be associated with a YouTube Merch shelf, to promote the creator’s products and services.
The other six canceled projects were yet to launch, but included a financial accounting project for Google Sheets, another shopping-related product, analytics for AR/VR, and, sadly, three climate-related projects. These latter projects had focused on electric car charging cards with routing, carbon accounting for computing and forest carbon measurement.
The changes follow last year’s reorganization of the Area 120 team, which saw the group move to a new “Google Labs” division led by veteran Googler Clay Bavor. The incubator was later bundled alongside other forward-looking Google efforts, such as its virtual and augmented reality developments and its cutting-edge holographic videoconferencing project known as Project Starline.
However, we understand that Google’s internal messaging regarding these new cuts did not describe them as another reorganization, but rather as a “strength reduction”.