Google's effort to launch a social-media network on top of its existing 143 million Gmail users had a rough first week. Within days of last week's launch of Google Buzz, it was hard to keep up with users' privacy complaints and the company's rapid responses. Being automatically linked to contacts was a nonstarter. So was having those contacts revealed to other Gmail users.
So as the Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant looked ahead at how to make Buzz more marketable, company executives also looked back, admitting it might not have been a good idea to beta-test the system only with Google employees.
"Getting feedback from 20,000 Googlers isn't quite the same as letting Gmail users play with Buzz in the wild," Todd Jackson, the product manager for Gmail and Buzz, told The Wall Street Journal on Monday.
'We're Very Sorry'
Over the weekend, Jackson announced on The Official Gmail Blog that Google had further tweaked Buzz in response to user feedback, after an initial fix on Thursday that made it easier for users to block the followers Google matched them with, or those who had requested a connection.
With the latest change, Buzz will no longer match people up, but merely suggest that users make the connection. "You won't be set up to follow anyone until you have reviewed the suggestions and clicked 'Follow selected people and start using Buzz,'" Jackson wrote.
Google also disconnected its Reader and Picasa sites, which share users' favorite web sites and photos, from Buzz, so that even if the settings are public they will not go automatically into the news feed.
"We're very sorry for the concern we have caused and have been working hard ever since to improve things based on your feedback," Jackson wrote.
A Win for Privacy Advocates
Ryan Calo, a residential fellow at the Center for the Internet and Society at Stanford University Law School, said the user revolt against Buzz's default privacy settings reinforced the notion that even in an age of exploding blog and social-media use, Internet users are still protective of their privacy.
"I wish Google had anticipated these privacy issues in advance and built them into the user experience from the beginning," said Calo. "But I think there's good news in here for privacy advocates, too, namely that users care enough to object to sharing their information by default, and that a company like Google responds quickly."
Widely circulated reports last week said Google was likely to soon launch a version of Buzz for non-Gmail users, while maintaining the Gmail-linked system.
Jackson told the Journal Monday that Google will expand its testing to include friends and families of employees. He also said better filtering capability to allow more blocking of postings and conversations is in the works.
Fast Spam Action
Adding to the bad buzz about Buzz, the security lab Websense reported that just two days after the Google Buzz launched, a spammer who is sending links to a site for a smoking-cessation product was already following 237 people.
"When Twitter was launched, it took a while before it was used to send spam and other malicious messages," Websense said. "In this case, it only took two days. It's clear that the bad guys have learned from their experience using social networks to distribute these type of messages."