Last week, we learned that Google’s internal R&D group, Area 120, was hit hard by Google’s broader workforce cuts, impacting teams working on some of Google’s more experimental ideas. However, we now understand that at least three Area 120 projects were spared these latest cuts and will “graduate” to other parts of Google later this year. These include Out loudan automated and cheaper one video dubbing solution; called a privacy platform for app developers Controls; and lata consumer app quietly acquired by Google last year.
Most Area 120 projects are developed in-house, making Liist a rare exception. The startup, which had grown up $1.1 million in seed capital according to Crunchbase, offered a social bookmark tool to save places can be found on the internet, including via apps such as TikTok and Instagram. At Google’s Area 120, the team had been tasked with building a new consumer product.
While Aloud and Checks have obvious utility and fit easily into other parts of Google’s organization, Liist is perhaps the most intriguing of the three survivors of Area 120. Beyond Liist’s acquisition, Google had spoken about the threat to its core search and advertising business posed by TikTok and Instagram. Speaking at an industry event, Google SVP Prabhakar Raghavan, who heads Google’s Knowledge & Information organization, told an interviewer that the search giant’s own research found that young people now often don’t start searching for places on Google.
“In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place to eat lunch, they don’t turn to Google Maps or Search,” he said. “They go to TikTok or Instagram.”
When Liist’s bookmarking app was live, he’d touted a variety of use cases, including things like saving places for travel inspiration, planning a night out with friends, creating nightlife lists, and more. Users could vote where they wanted to go or plan trips together. The app was also one of the first to integrate with TikTok’s Jump platform, which allows users to jump from videos to third-party experiences — such as saving a recipe to the Whisk app after watching a video demonstrating the recipe, for example. .
Liist’s app shut down when the team joined Google, but co-founder David Friedl’s LinkedIn states that the team has been working on a “Gen Z consumer product” within Area 120. No other details have been provided.
According to an internal email to the Area 120 team shared with TechCrunch, Liist and the other remaining Area 120 projects will now fall under the purview of Area 120 Managing Partner Elijah Roman as they move forward. The email was written by veteran Googler Clay Bavor, who you may recall took over Area 120 and other AR and VR projects as part of a 2021 reorganization that dubbed this group of projects “Google Labs.”
Roman will also now lead a suite of “applied AI” products under Senior Director of Product Management at Google Labs, Josh Woodward.
While the Area 120 layoffs are only a small percentage of Google’s recent budget cuts affecting 12,000 people, or 6% of its global workforce, the R&D group had led several innovations over the years that were successful and spread to other parts of the world. exported from Google.
These include the HTML5 gaming platform for emerging markets called GameSnacks, which is integrated with Google Chrome; the tech interview platform Byteboard, a rare third-party spinout; an Airtable rival called Tables, which switched to Google Cloud; an AI-powered conversational advertising platform AdLingo, which also went to Cloud; video platforms Tangi and Shoploop, which moved to Google Search and Shopping respectively; and the web-based travel app Traveling birdwhich came out on Commerce, among others.
However, there were growing concerns that Google no longer saw Area 120 as a significant investment. Last September, the company whittled Area 120’s 14 projects in development to just seven and told affected employees to seek new roles within Google. At the time, a Google spokesperson explained that the group would shift focus to projects that “build on Google’s deep investment in AI” and “have the potential to solve key user problems.”
Bavor’s new email to Area 120 employees similarly highlights how Google’s experiments are now more intensely focused on the impact of AI in Google products, not the other types of projects Area 120 became known for in previous years. As Bavor writes:
It is clear that as a company we are still facing macroeconomic uncertainties. At the same time, there is tremendous opportunity for us in applying AI to reinvent so many of Google’s core products. With this in mind, I’ve made the difficult decision to phase out most of Area 120. For nearly seven years, Area 120 has been a source of bottom-up innovation within Google, and we’ve learned a lot about how best to pursue zero-to-one opportunities. But with the unprecedented opportunities ahead, we need to move to a new product development model that is opinionated and focused.
I know this change is significant and troubling. What hasn’t changed is the magnitude of the opportunities ahead, especially in applied AI. Across all of our domains, I think Labs does the most important and influential work at Google. And now, more than ever, the company counts on us to execute well. I am very confident that as a team we will navigate this moment and deliver in 2023.
The email comes on top of Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, about the layoffs. that was shared publicly on Google’s “The Keyword” blog.
Google declined to comment.