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“[I]t comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” — Steve Jobs, BusinessWeek, 2004.

That quote from the Apple CEO came to mind over the weekend as I was reading Google’s blog post explaining its decision to exit two ambitious projects — its Google Health and PowerMeter initiatives. Companies are defined not only by what they do, but by what they decide not to do, and in that way the search giant is showing a new level of maturity in scaling back its ambitions.

It’s also a matter of being pragmatic. Google conceded in the post that neither of the projects caught on as much as it hoped.

Both were based on the idea that with more and better information, people can make smarter choices, whether in regard to managing personal health and wellness, or saving money and conserving energy at home. While they didn’t scale as we had hoped, we believe they did highlight the importance of access to information in areas where it’s traditionally been difficult.

It took Microsoft a long time to learn this lesson. Apart from one-off duds like Microsoft Bob, it was only after the recent recession that the company started cutting back on its product line in a big way, with casualties including MSN Money and Encarta.

Ironically, though, Google’s decision to axe Google Health could end up benefiting the Redmond company, whose HealthVault service has been a competitor. Existing users of Google Health will be able to export their data to the Microsoft service.

Microsoft’s Hohm, which had been a competitor to Google PowerMeter, might not be positioned to benefit as much from Google’s decision to axe its project. Microsoft has been shifting Hohm away from residential energy monitoring to focus more on information and power management services for electric cars.

And with both tech giants looking elsewhere, the home energy management space suddenly seems like fertile ground once again for current and future startups.

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