If a Google app falls in the forest…

Philipp Lenssen over at Google Blogoscoped has the sad story of Hello, which has just been shut down (Josh Catone at Read/Write Web has already beaten me to the inevitable headline). Of course, it’s only a sad story if you have any clue what Hello was, and it seems obvious that not many people do, otherwise (presumably) the company wouldn’t be shutting it down. Certainly most of the people I’ve mentioned it to have no clue what I’m talking about — but I remember it.

The funny thing is that Hello was actually a really cool app, as a couple of people have noted in the comments on Phil’s post. It was acquired along with Picasa in 2005, but I had never heard of it either until a couple of years ago a friend mentioned it, and said that she used it all the time with her parents. This surprised me, since she wasn’t a computer type at all — but she had just had a baby, and somehow came across Hello and set her parents up with it too. She thought it was the best thing ever.

In effect, Hello merged a photo-sharing app and an instant messaging and chat tool into one thing — and the best part was that when you were looking at photos with someone else, it actually showed you which photo they were looking at, so that you could tell them about it in the chat window. When my friend wanted to show her non-techie parents photos of her baby, she just sent a chat request, they opened the window and the photos would show up — and then she could type in messages about them as they looked at them.

Yes, I know that she could have just emailed them, or uploaded them to Picasa.com and then sent her parents the URL — or she could have uploaded them and then called them on the phone to chat about them. But Hello worked really well, and it was nice to see an app designed to do one simple thing and do it well. I still think Google didn’t put enough energy into promoting it the way they could have, just as they haven’t done anything with Dodgeball, or Jaiku, or a half a dozen other apps they’ve acquired. In the case of Hello, I think it’s a real shame.

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