Google Buzz: Responding to the Community

Watching Google Buzz roll out was like watching a train wreck. It was terrible, but I couldn’t quite look away either. Anyone watching my Twitter stream when Google Buzz was first announced knows that I was really unhappy with the initial implementation:

  • Once I clicked through to try Buzz, there was no way to opt back out.
  • Buzz auto-followed some of my clients and my accountant; people that I email frequently, but that I have private business relationships with, not public ones.
  • There was no documentation where I could learn more about exactly what it was doing and find a way to stop it.
  • There was no link where I could change my settings.

In my case, it was a minor inconvenience, but for other people it was a major business issue and even a matter of personal safety: venture capitalists, journalists and their sources, human rights advocates, and people with past abusive relationships are all example of people for whom this could have been a major problem. I was finally able to find a configuration that I could live with, but it wasn’t easy — the means to do so were spread out over Google Buzz and my Google Profile.

The point of writing this, though, is not to bash Google. Yes, the Buzz team made mistakes, but they heard the complaints and responded very quickly to people’s concerns. They are working to resolve them, and Google is doing a great job of damage control.

Most of the concerns that I mentioned above came out on Wednesday, and by Thursday, Google had made major improvements to Buzz:

  • Making the option to display or not display your followers more visible in the user interface
  • Adding a block feature for followers
  • More clarity over what information is visible to others and what is not

The Google Buzz team continued to work hard over the weekend on even more improvements that are in progress:

  • Moving from an auto-follow model to an auto-suggest model
  • Not auto-connecting Picasa and Google Reader to Buzz
  • Adding easier access to settings, including an option to disable Buzz completely

Yes, Google made some big mistakes with Buzz, but it is listening to its community of users and is working hard to respond quickly with improvements that its users need. I wish more companies would take the time to listen to their community and respond this quickly to make changes to their product. Companies are made up of people, and we all make mistakes. Great companies acknowledge their mistakes and work quickly to resolve the issues and make their customers happy again.

What are your favorite examples of companies who have responded well (or not so well) to public criticism?

Related GigaOM Pro Research: Google Buzz’s True Home Is in the Enterprise

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