If you work at Google, your ears are surely burning right now. Google's introduction of its Buzz social media tool this week was possibly the most disastrous product debut in the company's 12-year history.
Almost immediately, Google Buzz got smacked around hard by the blogosphere and veteran journos for making it easy to access information -- like who you're in regular contact with -- that people may not have necessarily wanted the rest of the world to know.
What Google Buzz does is essentially mash up two similar but distinct services: Twitter and Facebook. Twitter is very open -- anyone can follow or send messages to anyone else -- but very limited in what people can find out about you. Facebook opens the kimono wider, but offers much more control over what strangers can see. If they don't have your OK, they can't see much (assuming you know how to use FB's privacy settings).
Google Buzz combined the openness of Twitter with the "whoo-hoo look at me!" aspects of Facebook. The result? A total face plant.
Nick Carlson at Silicon Alley Insider was particularly scathing in his criticism, noting how Google's casual attitude toward revealing one's Gmail contacts could have nasty real-world consequences.
"When you first go into Google Buzz, it automatically sets you up with followers and people to follow. ... The problem is that -- by default -- the people you follow and the people that follow you are made public to anyone who looks at your profile. In other words, before you change any settings in Google Buzz, someone could go into your profile and see the people you email and chat with most ...
"In my profession -- where anonymous sourcing is a crucial tool -- the implications of this flaw are terrifying. But it's bad for others too. Two obvious scenarios come to mind:
"Imagine if a wife discovering that her husband emails and chats with an old girlfriend a ton.
"Imagine a boss discovers a subordinate emails with executives at a competitor."
(Get the feeling Nick has been chatting up a few old flames lately?)
I spoke with a Googler yesterday about the Buzz backlash. He said they were totally unprepared for it. They had no idea this reaction was coming and were frantically working to respond to it. What seemed blatantly obvious to people who've been through the many Facebook privacy imbroglios was complete news to the Googlefolks.
Late yesterday afternoon, Google introduced some changes it was making to Buzz via its Official Google Blog. They didn't really change much -- they just made some of the privacy features more visible, made it easier to block people from following you, and made it easier to manage which followers show up on your public Google Profile.
What they didn't do was change the requirement for you to create a Google Profile in order to use Buzz, or change the default URL for the profile, which is the first half of your Gmail address. That's not good.