Google Blows It with Buzz Rollout

In Google’s ongoing march to transform itself into a social media platform (and hold off Facebook) the company launched GMail-based Buzz last week. And to “jump start” the social network Google has cast the net too broadly, automatically assigning followers based on “most frequent” email contacts.

There are a range of privacy issues that Google has created and, in the words of the WSJ, is now “scrambling” to address. The launch was initially a “success,” as measured by visibility, media attention and of course “buzz.” However it quickly turned into a PR disaster as the privacy issues became apparent:

According to the GMail Blog Google has been trying to address those concerns:

We’ve had plenty of feature requests, and some direct feedback. In particular there’s been concern from some people who thought their contacts were being made public without their knowledge (in particular the lists of people they follow, and the people following them). In addition, others felt they had too little control over who could follow them and were upset that they lacked the ability to block people who didn’t yet have public profiles from following them.

Like Gmail’s chat service, Buzz helps you create a social network by automatically setting you up to follow the people you email and chat with most. You can change, delete or add any contacts you want to follow.

So here is some more information about how Buzz works, and some immediate improvements we are making today based on your feedback.

While the number of immediate users and activity is very impressive and shows Google’s “raw scale” — “over 9 million posts and comments. Plus … over 200 posts per minute from mobile phones around the world” — the rollout miscalculated the fact that most people don’t want to turn their email contacts into their social network and most people don’t want those contacts “public” or otherwise automatically exposed to others.

Again, Google is seeking to quickly address these issues.

On a personal note, I’m unlikely to use Buzz in any sustained way because it’s just redundant (vs. Facebook and Twitter). I want email to be email and unfortunately this whole experience has “tainted” GMail. I do think that Buzz has interesting utility in mobile however, which some mistake as new. (Socialight, Flook and others offer similar capabilities.)

The lack of clarity about what was happening and how to control it, how to change privacy settings and so on — the “involuntary” nature of the Buzz rollout — was and is the central problem. This resulted from Google’s desire to create immediate scale and usage.

The key thing that people want is choice; they want to consciously decide whom to connect with or follow and who follows them. They want that process to be more transparent as with other networks: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.

Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center said it well in the WSJ piece:

“Google has generally been pretty savvy” about privacy considerations while rolling out new products, he said. “And still, they blundered big time.”

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(Google should de-couple Buzz from GMail or create that option.)

2 Responses to “Google Blows It with Buzz Rollout”

  1. Andrew Goodman Says:

    Even after their “changes”…

    I uninstalled Buzz by clicking that link at the bottom of the page, for both of my main GMail accounts. One of my friends can still see that we are following each other and the other information about who follows me, who I followed, etc. I am not even a “member” anymore… or am I a member for life by default?

    Google’s attitude towards privacy has gone from suspect, to “without a doubt beyond cavalier.”

    “We’re sorry” is the only way to fix this “blunder”. Not a “whoops we made a change to a setting, small adjustment”. The whole mentality underlying the rollout was wrong, and it should have been stopped somewhere along the line.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    The prevailing idea in the tech community is that no one cares about privacy anymore, which I don’t think is true. People are more willing to share information that might have been considered “private” in the past but I don’t think that equals no privacy concerns.

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