Google, to its credit, is rolling with the punches thrown in response to its Buzz launch from last month, making changes to the product to address user concerns, and staying committed to it despite a messy launch. Members of the Buzz product team spoke on a behind-the-scenes-of-Gmail panel at SXSW today, addressing industry-wide criticism as well as a cutting attack over privacy issues from SXSW keynoter and researcher Danah Boyd delivered on Saturday.
Google has been criticized far and wide for the way it launched and implemented Buzz, its new social web aggregation product. The primary complaint was over privacy — since Buzz exposed and made assumptions about pre-existing Gmail users’ relationships with each other. Buzz also has other problems: it’s noisy, limited to just a few services, and for many does not serve a distinct enough purpose from competitors.
Buzz product manager Todd Jackson, who spoke on the panel and to GigaOM afterwards, said he attended Boyd’s talk and found it “extremely insightful, fair and something we could work from.” He said he personally emailed Boyd afterwards and invited her to deliver the same talk at Google.
“It’s a challenging set of questions navigating in this space that’s fairly new and especially for Google,” Jackson said. He said some of Boyd’s most resonant points concerned how users perceive their different social groups, and the idea that making public information more public could violate users’ privacy.
Jackson said that he and his team are committed to Buzz as an idea and a product and will continue to have the support of Google to evolve it — for instance, this week Buzz released better inbox alert controls. Buzz now has “millions” of users (Google will only say that Gmail, Buzz’ parent product and its host, has “hundreds of millions” of users).
Next on the Buzz to-do list are more ways to control users’ streams, and moderation for how often an item bumps to the top, Jackson said. He also said that Buzz for Google Apps should be out “in next couple months-ish.”
The Buzz team also plans to experiment more with communicating with users before launching new features through things like its own “Google Buzz” account. “In general we don’t like preannouncing things,” Jackson said on the panel, pointing out that users will want to try something when they hear about it. But the Buzz team is finding through experience and through feedback such as Boyd’s speech that talking with its users will help them appreciate, expect and even influence product development.
You’d still hope they would have gotten this right (or a lot more right) the first time, but at least now they have the right attitude.
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