Google Buzz: what’s the appropriate reaction?

I must admit, I’m so undecided over this one that two hands are no longer sufficient…

On the one hand, I am actually grateful to Google for the fact that their botched implementation and deployment of Buzz has brought some of the flaws of “social networking” to the fore. There’s intelligent, rational and perceptive comment from John Pescatore at Gartner, for instance.

The term “social networking” perpetuates a deception in which users, myself included, have been too happy to collude… the idea that “social networking” operates by the same rules as face-to-face personal interaction, and that there is no ‘third party in the room’ when you interact with your online buddies. The sooner that particular emperor is revealed to be naked, the better.

On the other hand, it frustrates and even angers me that Google have not, among the various changes they have made since the launch, done the single, simple thing which would most clearly illustrate that they acknowledge there’s a problem: make Buzz an explicit opt-in service. I see from this article in the Guardian that that is what EPIC have asked the FTC to rule – and rightly so.

On the third hand… I still can’t decide whether Google’s approach here is just naive, or breathtakingly disingenuous. I mean, imagine you read the following in a news article:

“We only released the crocodiles into the primary school building a week ago. We’ve already made a few changes based on user feedback, and we have more improvements in the works. We look forward to hearing more suggestions and will continue to improve the primary-school crocodile experience, with user transparency and control top of mind.”

Is there nothing in that which might ring a few alarm bells, in terms of risk, duty of care, and considering (in advance…) whether you’re about to do something with irreversible consequences?

[Here’s the actual Google statement, for clarity’s sake: “Buzz was launched only a week ago. We’ve already made a few changes based on user feedback, and we have more improvements in the works. We look forward to hearing more suggestions and will continue to improve the Buzz experience with user transparency and control top of mind.”]

One of the commenters on John Pescatore’s blog expressed the view that Google had forgotten “the cardinal rule of social media: Assume anything your members do is private until they tell you otherwise”.

With respect to that commenter, I don’t think that is the cardinal rule at all. I think the game operates more like this:

  • Rule One: Maintain the illusion that the user is interacting only with their chosen parties; as long as you don’t spook them, users will be happy to connive at this pretence.
  • Rule Two: Under no circumstances force the user to acknowledge that there’s a third party in the room… whether that’s you, as the “social network” provider, or the others with whom you exchange data about the users.
  • Rule Three: Keep calling it “social networking”, to reinforce the impression that it operates by the same rules as face-to-face interaction between friends. (It doesn’t, but see Rule One).
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One thought on “Google Buzz: what’s the appropriate reaction?

  1. WH says:

    Great post, and the crocodile example makes the point very well.But I wonder if noxious vapours (I hesitate to say "poison gas"!) would be more apt than crocodiles, given that crocodiles can be contained within the school walls (ish), but gas once released seeps out everywhere irrecoverably?

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