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Google backpedals on Buzz

Go to Google's official Gmail blog and read it in reverse order, from bottom to top, and you can see an interesting progression of posts about its new Buzz social-networking service. Consider how the tone has changed over the last week:

Feb. 9: "Google Buzz in Gmail"

Today, we're launching Google Buzz, a new way to start conversations about the things you find interesting and share updates, photos, videos and more. Buzz is built right into Gmail, so there's nothing to set up -- you're automatically following the people you email and chat with the most.

Feb. 11: "Millions of Buzz users, and improvements based on your feedback"

It's been just two days since we first launched Google Buzz. Since then, tens of millions of people have checked Buzz out, creating over 9 million posts and comments. Plus, we're seeing over 200 posts per minute from mobile phones around the world.

We've had plenty of feature requests, and some direct feedback.

Feb. 13: "A new Buzz start-up experience based on your feedback"

We've heard your feedback loud and clear, and since we launched Google Buzz four days ago, we've been working around the clock to address the concerns you've raised.

In shorter terms, the Buzz launch hasn't exactly gone as Google has hoped. The Web giant has become the latest firm to discover that people's private lives can be a lot messier than its developers had imagined.

The worst Buzz meltdown came when a woman complained that Buzz had exposed an unhealthy chunk of her details to an abusive ex-husband (warning: angry, grown-up language). That's a worst-case scenario, but not an unpredictable one for such an ambitious attempt to graft a semi-public communications system onto the inherently private medium of e-mail.

As security expert Bruce Schneier might put it, Buzz launched as a brittle system that would fail badly instead of degrading gracefully. That is, if something went wrong, the consequences would both be ugly and difficult to fix. That can happen when designers aim for maximum utility and assume all their users share those goals.

That initial error has created a non-trivial public-relations headache for the Mountain View, Calif., company. For example, at The Post's Foreign Policy, Evgeny Morozov suggested that Buzz's privacy settings would provide a huge help for totalitarian regimes: "If I were working for the Iranian or the Chinese government, I would immediately dispatch my Internet geek squads to check on Google Buzz accounts for political activists."

In response, Google has made major changes to Buzz's default settings, as outlined in those two latest blog posts. Buzz no longer has you automatically follow anybody; won't share even public Picasa photo albums and Google Reader shared items without your authorization; lets you hide your followers list; lets you block would-be followers and makes it easier to opt out of the service entirely.

As for me, I have to confess that I haven't spent much time using Buzz after its first few days: Because my own Buzz updates -- most echoed from my Twitter account -- have not drawn any replies on the service since last week, my Gmail inbox hasn't had any reminders of Buzz's existence. (I have to click on a separate link to follow the Buzz chatter of people I'm following.) And yet I've now drawn 27 followers despite my offering little on Buzz that you can't get elsewhere.

At some point, I will need to decide if I will use Buzz as yet another actively tended social-media channel, on top of Twitter and my public Facebook page, or if I'll let it quietly collect dust alongside my long-neglected MySpace presence.

You can help inform that decision: Take the poll below, then explain your vote in the comments.

Update: The BBC has a great piece in which Google seems to say Buzz--unlike most of its other new products--never saw testing outside the company's own employees. Later in the piece, Buzz product manager Todd Jackson pronounces the firm "very, very sorry."

By Rob Pegoraro  |  February 16, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Privacy , Social media  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: PostPoints tips: Don't let old e-mail addresses linger
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Turned it off. As an AA member who also uses that account for non-AA stuff, I don't want to inadvertently expose my AA friends.

Posted by: wiredog | February 16, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

I had high hopes for it, but I removed all my info from it after 1) reading the Wordpress blog post with the "grown-up" language, and 2) realizing that there was NO way to keep anyone from seeing anything in my Google Profile unless I deleted that field. I had to change my Gmail name because it shows up in my public profile, whether I want it to or not. Try looking at[username] (make sure you're not logged into any Google service), where [username] is your Gmail/Google username. If you were trying to keep your Gmail account anonymous or confidential, Google may STILL have messed that up for you without even telling you.

Posted by: MaxH | February 16, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Turned it off (I hope). I'm not interested enough in it to bother figuring out all the various privacy permutations that will allow me to share only what I want. If I wanted to share, I'd use Facebook (which I don't).

Posted by: ah___ | February 16, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Since you didn't let us choose more than one option, I'll elaborate. Dabbled for a few days, then dropped. Did not add any usable functions to my social mediated existence. Might reconsider if I can more easily create focused groups, but managing Gmail is already a chore. Maybe they should fix that first.

Posted by: umprof | February 16, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

You can turn it off??? Tell me how!

Posted by: cbr1 | February 16, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

@cbr1 Instructions for turning it off here:

Short version: go to the bottom of the page and click on "turn off buzz"

Posted by: catester | February 16, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I set up a gmail account to access one email mailing list. I access that gmail account with Eudora, and haven't logged into the gmail site since I set it up. This is the first I recall hearing about Google Buzz. So, does this mean that Google Buzz is active for my account, and I have to go to the gmail site and turn it off?

Posted by: Ghak | February 16, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

BTW, I haven't used Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, or any other social networking site.

Posted by: Ghak | February 16, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Does turning off Buzz actually turn it off now? I clicked that option or a similar one at the bottom of the page, but it only had the effect of hiding Buzz, not getting rid of it. I had to go hunting around to get rid of the whole mess of stuff it had automatically started (like the follower list) without me even getting a chance to opt in.

Posted by: Podunk | February 16, 2010 10:45 PM | Report abuse

Google tends to put new applications online and then continue development. I guess that doesn't work so well with personal information.

Posted by: SteveDC1 | February 17, 2010 6:31 AM | Report abuse

I access Gmail via POP on my desktop and IMAP on my laptop and iPhone. I am, I sincerely hope, ignoring Buzz.

Posted by: joatamon | February 22, 2010 8:39 AM | Report abuse

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