Dodgeball, Overhyped and Underused, Deserved to Die

Google has axed six services, from Google Video uploads to a shopping-catalog search. But none has sparked more outrage than the closure of Dodgeball.com. Dennis Crowley, the friend-locating service's twentysomething founder, is miffed.

But why? Having taken Google's money for Dodgeball, he gave up the right to have a say in its future. And some startups deserve to die.

Dodgeball enjoyed a brief vogue in 2006 among the early adopters of San Francisco and New York. Quips a person in this set: "Dodgeball died when Twitter took off. Most useful now as a way to see where Andrew Krucoff is getting drunk, or where Rex Sorgatz is getting laid."

For people caught up in the world of Carroll Gardens-to-Mission District microcelebrity, in other words, Dodgeball was a gift. But for Google's hubristic executives, who aim to organize all the world's information, catering to a self-appointed cool-kid set is far too low an ambition. (In 2005, the same year it bought Dodgeball, it also bought a startup called Android; Google is trying to spread the resulting cell-phone operating system into millions of devices.)

Crowley complained that Dodgeball got little support from Google, and noisily quit two years after the sale.

What Crowley, with his entrepreneur's ego, and Dodgeball's self-involved, self-obsessed fans may be too caught up to realize: Google may never have wanted Dodgeball in the first place. Large companies buy smaller ones all the time for a host of reasons: to hire talent, to block rivals from purchasing a company, or even to strangle a threat in the crib. Sometimes, too, they simply make mistakes. (One problem Google has had in integrating startups: Its in-house technology for distributing Web applications across the globe is quirky, and code from outside the Googleplex often requires a complete rewrite before it can work on Google's servers.)

In any event, we're likely to see fewer Dodgeball debacles in Google's future. The market for small Web startups has all but dried up; Google's dealmakers feel less need to swoop in and buy companies lest they go to Microsoft or Yahoo. And Google's informal M&A process, where well-connected early employees could run around with Google's checkbook cutting deals on a whim, is tightening up, we hear. We wonder: Will the Dennis Crowleys of the world be happier if they get to keep their pet projects running, but without Google paying for them?