Google’s ’20 Percent Time’ Will Survive The Death of Google Labs

Google announced this morning that it will be shutting down Google Labs, a platform that allowed users to interact and give feedback on experimental products produced by Googlers in their 20 Percent Time.

While many were left wondering, Google tells me that the company has no changes to announce with regards to the 20 Percent Time program; killing Labs doesn’t mean the discontinuation of the one day a week Googlers get to spend on “projects that aren’t necessarily in [their] job descriptions.” “We’ll continue to devote a subset of our time to newer and experiment projects,” Google representative Jason Friedenfelds tells me.

Google has yet to respond to my inquiry about where all the 2o Percent Time projects will go after Labs’ shutdown (Google X perhaps?), but I’m guessing that some of those efforts will be refined and funneled into Google+. Instead of a bunch of random and unrelated ideas we’ll start seeing bigger Google bets like Gmail+  or Aardvark integration in addition to completely independent projects like Photovine, Disco and Pool Party.

While the Labs shutdown does signify yet another step towards a more focused, streamlined Google (“More wood behind fewer arrows”), we mustn’t forget that a good number of successful and beloved Google products started out in Google Labs, including Google News, Google Reader, Google Trends and Google Maps.

Many people hold the service to be endemic to Google’s culture of encouraging experimental ideas and innovation. Says Google+ commenter Dustin Earley, “I’ve always thought of Google as this adventurous company leading the way in innovations, not afraid to put some chips into a risky project. Killing off Labs makes me feel like a little piece of that died with it.”

Does putting the kibosh on Google Labs in fact make Google less “Googley”? I’m going to go with probably not, especially since the company is apparently still holding fast on the 20 Percent time program and encouraging the “field testing” of obviously beta products like Google+ Sparks.

“I don’t think they are going to slow down innovation,” says Google+ commenter Eric Lawrence, “They are just streamlining the process from inception to product. Less public focus on their cakes in the oven will allow them to not have to focus lots of resources on bad products simply because they are public and lots of alpha users have latched on to them.” Basically, less Waves and more Circles.