Google’s experimental incubator, Area 120, got a funding cut and saw nearly half of its projects shuttered amid the company’s ongoing hiring freeze.
Area 120, for those unfamiliar, is an in-house incubator that developed experimental projects that sometimes went on to have wider impacts, or just fizzled out after. For example, there was the ‘Reply’ project that added automatic reply bubbles to notifications — Google killed the experiment in 2019, but it went on the become a staple feature in Android. There’s also Grasshopper, an app that teaches people how to code using short puzzles, which currently has over 5 million downloads on the Play Store.
On the other hand, projects that ‘fizzled’ include things like Shoploop, a TikTok-like app for shopping, Keen, an AI-powered Pinterest wannabe, video messaging app Uptime (of course it’s another messaging app), and more.
Per reports from Bloomberg and TechCrunch, Google cancelled or reorganized seven of the 14 ongoing projects at Area 120 and informed team members that they would need to find new roles within Google by January 2023. Those who don’t find new roles will be terminated, although the company’s recruiters will help relocate affected employees.
Terminated projects include Qaya, a service to help creators set up storefronts to sell goods and services.
A company spokesperson told Bloomberg that Area 120 “will be shifting its focus to projects that build on Google’s deep investment in AI and have the potential to solve important user problems. As a result, Area 120 is winding down several projects to make way for new work. Impacted team members will receive dedicated support as they explore new projects and opportunities at Google.”
In other words, Area 120 will keep trucking but with a new focus and, well, less funding. Google also recently shuttered its Pixelbook team, so I’d expect the company to continue cutting and reducing projects for the foreseeable future.