Archive for February 2010

Google Buzz Missteps

12 February 2010

Google Buzz LogoIt sounds like a great idea, take a very popular product, like Gmail, and attach an interface to it that allows users to link their Twitter, Flickr, Picasa, and Google Reader accounts so they can see information posted by friends (or others they most frequently Gmail to) on those networks. Gmail users can even post their thoughts directly on that interface.

Called Google Buzz, this attempt to get into social networking and compete (or maybe even replace) social media like Facebook and Twitter didn’t start off well. Molly Wood, a consumer electronics blogger at Cnet News, complained of privacy concerns right from the beginning:

Molly’s Rants,
Google Buzz: Privacy nightmare

See, I love the idea of neat new tech innovations that lead to streamlined communication, real-time updating, in-line video and photo posting, and supersimple friend and contact integration. I do not, however, like a product that bursts through my door like a tornado and opts me in to wanton in-box clutter and spam (or, more precisely, bacn) publicly reveals my personal contact list without asking me, threatens to broadcast my e-mail address anytime someone wants to @ me in a Buzz, and even appears to grab photos off my Android phone that I’ve never uploaded.

Seriously, Google. Would it have killed you to add a “configure” step to this process?

When you visit Google Buzz, you’re invited to “Try Buzz in Gmail,” with “no setup needed.” But the no-setup thing isn’t the bonus you might be led to believe.

First, you automatically follow everyone in your Gmail contact list, and that information is publicly available in your profile, by default, to everyone who visits your profile. It’s available with helpful “follow” links too–wow, you can expand your Buzz network so fast by harvesting the personal contact lists of other people!

Blog posts rapidly stepped in with advice on how to shut the damn thing off:

Cnet Webware,
Buzz off: Disabling Google Buzz

Google’s new social-networking tool Buzz is at its root an unwanted, unasked for pest. The way some of us see it, we didn’t opt in to some newfangled Twitter system and we don’t particularly want to see updates from contacts we never asked to follow creep up in our Buzz in-box. Call us what you will, but for curmudgeonly types like us, Buzz isn’t so much social networking as it is socially awkward networking. We tried it, we didn’t like it, and now it has to go.

Step 0: Don’t disable Buzz–yet

The automatic reaction is to scroll to the very bottom of Gmail and click the words “turn off buzz.” But all this does is remove active links, leaving your profile still publicly available, along with any public buzzes you might have made while trying Buzz out. In fact, you’re still technically following people, and they’re following you. Not OK.

[get the rest of the instructions at the link]

Google responded with a few quick fixes:

Relevant Results,
Google tweaks Buzz privacy settings

Google announced some changes to Google Buzz late Thursday that show it has belatedly recognized the backlash over privacy concerns with the new service.

Early users of Google Buzz have found the settings very complicated, especially the ones that pertain to privacy. In a blog post Thursday, Google said it built privacy controls into Google Buzz from Day 1 but acknowledged the most strident criticism–that Google made if difficult to make one’s list of followers private–in tweaking the set-up process for the new social-networking service.

I’m surprised that Google didn’t do better pre-rollout testing on this product asking bloggers to comment and check it out. They’re not supposed to make stupid business mistakes.

Me? I like the idea but I’m going to wait this out and consider it later when Google has had time to iron out all the wrinkles.

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