Buzz: Google Needs Better "People Skills"

Google's inability to deal with people issues--like Buzz privacy and Nexus One customer support--makes the company look technically sophisticated but socially inept.

Google's millionaire genius-nerds need to learn what real people expect from technology and how to deliver it.

Forget for a moment that Google Buzz meets no obvious need, and consider just the human factors.

There are both privacy and functionality issues with Buzz. The social network, as introduced this week, was a privacy nightmare and a hard one to use, at that.

Given the option, Google's choice for default settings were what benefited Google the most, not what best protected its consumers.

This is what happens when a company is too engineering driven and strives to make only fact-based decisions.

It is hard to complain about the Buzz technology itself, as creating followers automatically from mail contacts is a neat trick. So it follows that making those automatic connections public allows more connections to be made, right?

It does, but...

Goggle missed the fact that making automatically-generated contacts visible to the entire world--by default--might creep some people out and even endanger the safety of others.

That's not something they teach in engineering school.

To its credit, the Google was fairly quick to make changes, but these could go farther. Google needs to adopt a mindset of defaulting to the most restrictive privacy settings and then explaining to users the pluses and minuses of being less restrictive.

Google needs to be asking itself, "How did this happen?" Another episode could earn the company the same sort of reputation for privacy cluelessness that Facebook has captured.

As for the Nexus One, it likewise never seems to have occurred to Google that its customers might demand support, especially personal support, or that setting Early Termination Fees much above the industry norm might be considered abusive.

The good news here, too, is that Google has tried to make amends. The better news is that handsets are not a core business for Google--I don't expect them to sell smartphones for long--so these problems aren't likely to continue indefinitely.

Privacy, however, impacts everything Google does. That the company could get Buzz privacy so terribly wrong is reason for serious concern.

Google needs to learn when to put people first and technology second.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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