Google Offloads Mystery Barge to Marine Company

Google wont comment on whether its scrapping the whole barge showroom plan

The Boston-based barge and marine contracting company that bought one of Google's mystery barges is still trying to figure out exactly what its going to do with it.

John McNulty, a project manager for Cashman Equipment Corp., a 19-year-old company that has more than 120 inland and ocean vessels, said his company finalized the acquisition of the barge that is docked in Maine earlier this week.

Cashman Equipment bought the four-story barge, which is made up of recycled shipping containers, from By and Large LLC, a company acting on behalf of Google. McNulty declined to say how much was paid for the barge, which was moved this week from Portland, Me., where it had been docked for about nine months, to South Portland, Me.

Google confirmed that it sold the barge but would not offer any information on why it was sold or whether the company is looking to sell the other barge, which has been docked in San Francisco since last fall.

"We're working on the next step. It's somewhat of an unknown at the moment," McNulty told Computerworld. "Right now, it's in a hold pattern till that plan is finalized. Whatever I tell you, it could change in 10 minutes."

He added that he has no knowledge of Cashman Equipment being in negotiations to buy Google's West Coast barge. Google's two mystery barges garnered a lot of attention and speculation in October and November when they appeared docked on opposite coasts of the U.S.

This is the East Coast Google barge as it appeared last fall. (Photo: Sharon Gaudin/Computerworld)

After weeks of building curiosity and media attention, Google finally acknowledged that it owned the barges and planned to turn them into upscale, high-tech floating technology showrooms that could move up and down either coast.

With designs for a roof deck, catwalks and an open atrium, the barges were set to not only exhibit Google's products but to hopefully drive business and attention to the various harbors where they would ultimately be docked.

Now it's unclear whether the East Coast barge simply was problematic or Google decided to back away from the entire plan.

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Company, said he doesn't think it's an issue of the project becoming too pricey for Google.

"Nah, this would just be a rounding error for them," said Olds. "I don't think that selling off the East Coast barge had much, if anything, to do with costs. Barges just aren't all that expensive. Selling the barge might mean that they've simply come up with a better marketing idea."

However, even if Google gives up on the project, it wouldn't be a total loss for the company.

"When you think about how much free publicity they've received out of this Google Merchant Marine gambit, it's sort of a win for them, whether the barges become active stores or not, eh?" Olds asked.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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This story, "Google Offloads Mystery Barge to Marine Company" was originally published by Computerworld .

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