Posted February 15, 2010 10:06 am by with 15 comments

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Google is learning a harsh lesson about social networking, thanks to its new Buzz launch.

Knowing someone and being their friend are often two different things.

After the initial “buzz” Google Buzz has pretty much been a buzzkill. The service has outraged many that believe it revealed too much about their private interactions, while others have simply greeted the service with an apathetic meh.

Still, Google’s determined to push forward with Buzz–even if it means taking its licks over privacy. To its credit, Google’s reacting quickly to privacy concerns, rolling out further changes over the weekend.

First, no more auto-following everyone in your Gmail contacts. Now, Google Buzz will auto-suggest those you should follow:

All new users will see the screen above. Those already buzzing will soon get an option to start-over with those that they follow.

Second, Buzz will no longer connect your public Google items–Picasa or Google Reader, for example–automatically.

Lastly, you’ll soon see a new “Buzz” tab in your Gmail Settings, allowing you to turn the thing off completely!

And it’s that last item that suggests Google may be ready to wave the white flag and signal a retreat–even if a temporary one.

Google just has no idea how to run a social network. For example, had Facebook or Twitter received the same negative feedback, would they have been so quick to cave to demands? I suspect not. They’re social networks from the ground-up. They know what they’re trying to achieve and they know the lay of the land. Twitter and Facebook can tell the difference between the vocal minority–that will complain about anything–and the masses. How many times have we seen them back down over new features–it happens, but rarely.

Certainly, Twitter, Facebook et al are a lot slower to react to the instant, superficial complaints of those that would complain their candy tasted too good, given the chance. Google, on the other hand, has no experience in running a successful social network. It therefore has no point of reference to compare users’ complaints against. Without that, it’ll keep acquiescing to any complaints sent its way.

Then what will happen? Google will be left with a social network that doesn’t offend anyone–because it’s so boring, no one uses it!

  • Is Google Bleh in Beta?
    .-= Frank Reed´s last blog ..Social Media Requires A Learner’s Mind =-.

  • Yeah it is becomeing google bleh not google buzz more like google buzzkill

  • Jessica

    I’m pretty offended you have immediately assumed that the complaints Google received due to their pretty terrible ball-drop on Privacy were “superficial”. You clearly didn’t do your research on this article and actually LOOK at the complaints they got (most of them were perfectly clearly posted on the Google forums) and saw the really serious ones involving stalkers.

    Some of us have stalkers we don’t want following us online or in real life. Facebook etc allows you to choose who see’s what, and ways to block certain people completely. Buzz at this point not only doesn’t (anyone can choose to follow you and you have no way to prevent that), but also up till now did the auto follow thing which thankfully they have at least changed.

    I have a real life stalker, he was a business associate who didn’t get what he wanted out of work, and so took to personally persecuting me. His behavior got so bad I had to have a restraining order taken out that covered not only physical contact but also online contact, for a year I’ve had peace. But then Google Buzz came along and before I woke up in the morning, he’d followed me and gone through my Picassa & Google Reader account making comments on anything I’d shared. Now you might say “oh but you had made that public” and you’d be right… but till Google Buzz auto exposed all of that he had no idea I had accounts at those places. His comments were threatening and insulting and as a result of Google Buzz, I had to have the police over and invoke the restraining order, and I GOT TOLD OFF by the police for “making myself accessible” and “baiting” him.

    On the Google forums you can see posts like mine, even worse ones where Google Buzz connected abusive ex-husbands to women who started getting threats.

    Not all of us who use the internet are college kids who just want to frolic and run barefoot in the internet playground. Some of us have lives and have made decisions for whatever reasons that mean we don’t want just anyone seeing everything about us. And that’s why there was such a backlash over Buzz, it was TOO public, too automated. They made everything opt-out instead of opt-in, they didn’t give enough privacy controls (still haven’t, you still can’t properly block anyone) or respect people’s privacy. They didn’t make the few privacy controls they did have accessible enough.

    I’m glad they have the connection to their users that they WILL back down and make changes to a flawed system instead of sticking to their corporate vision and to hell with their users. It’s what makes people want to stay with them instead of going to other services, it’s what sets them apart from faceless services like Facebook & MySpace. They actually CARE enough to listen and make changes, I don’t see that as a weakness, I see that as a strength that will allow them to evolve and keep ahead of the game.

    • Well said Jessica
      .-= Jaan Kanellis´s last blog ..Google Buzz Nothing More Than Bridge to Google Wave =-.

    • Ania Kovas

      This reply is right on. This *is* a badly researched article with no sensitivity to the issues you describe. I *have* been running barefoot in the internet playground for the last 15 years and it took me some time to become as paranoid and savvy as you have to be not to get burned, and *I* don’t have an abusive stalker.

      Buzz caught me unaware, and I had to take steps to delete it, Google’s reaction is appropriate, and I feel nervous about they will do next, particularly as I have so much investment in data terms. It’s a huge confidence knock, and one that will take time to recover from.

      Having said that, I must disagree about one thing in the reply, Google do care, for whatever reason, (be it goodness, financial, social, political), and are doing something about it now. Nevertheless, I have to agree that they dropped the ball big time on this, and the consequences for some people are going to be far reaching. It is a salutary lesson for us all.

      As a reply to Jessica’s comments, I don’t know you personally and never shall, but your story really hits home, especially as you were told off the by the police, that really is just salt in the wound. It is certainly worth complaining about and I hope you have the time/strength, because lets face it, both are required, to make a complaint. It abuses us all when people who make a legitimate complaint to the Police are treated like this. Good luck.

    • I understand that you feel strongly about Google Buzz’s privacy issues–and I am not going to disagree with you–my point is that Google has no experience with running a social network so has no point of reference to determine what is a serious error in judgement and what is a superficial feature request that can be ignored.

      • Ania Kovas

        Point taken, and I could accept that from many organisations, but are we really saying that Google’s review process is so very naive that they have NO appreciation of the consequences of their actions?

        Despite reported instances of various of the personnel of Google saying privacy is dead, it is not, and indeed it is an important part of the human experience. We must at least feel that we have a modicum of privacy.

        In the meantime, I have an expectation that Google has enough expertise at its command to at least be able to *begin* to understand the consequences of its actions. Perhaps I expect too much.

        Thank you for your clarification though.

        • Well, they are certainly naive when it comes to launching a social network with the features users would want, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the privacy mess they are in right now. 🙂

        • Jessica

          Well Said Ania. I appreciate Google’s vision of the internet and what they want to do with their networking, however privacy is only dead when you’re a kid. Once you hit adulthood and you have a job and dealings with other adults, privacy is not only essential for your professional life (we’re already hearing stories of people who get fired for their Facebook status’) but also for your personal sanity!

          Andy, I completely agree that Google does lack experience in social networking, even though that’s their “dream”, to have every system they build network together, and I think that’s fantastic, but only if at the end of the day it’s the USER who sets the depth of those connections and who has complete control over who see’s what. I hope Google realizes that being able to marry user privacy control with complete networking will be their golden ticket. I would LOVE to be able to use one account to run my personal life, and the various non-profits I organize for, as well as my day job needs. It would save me so much time!

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  • It certainly will be interesting to watch Buzz grow 🙂
    I wonder what changes they already have in the pipeline!



  • Google Bleh is a good name for it. The good news is that they will probably listen to users and make the changes very fast. Can they get over the bad first impression tho?

  • Bizzzzar

    They have experience with social networking: Orkut
    The complainers are the ones that know whats going on.
    The masses don’t complain because they are too dumb to notice what the hell is going on.

  • Jack

    Wow.. I created my Buzz account within minutes of it being released and it didn’t automatically follow any of my contacts. Nor was any of my personal information shared.

    I think people are seriously overreacting.

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