Google: We Screwed Up With Buzz, Stay Tuned

Google, after scrambling to alter certain features and add new settings to Buzz several times since its launch a week ago, has admitted that it rushed the service out the door. However, the search giant says it’s working hard to adapt to what users want and has set up a “war room” dedicated to responding as quickly as possible. The company told the BBC that while most Google services go through some testing with a small group of beta users, Buzz was released into the wild without this level of testing. Buzz product manager Todd Jackson admitted that many users of Buzz were “rightfully upset” and said Google was “very, very sorry.” He added that: “We know we need to improve things.”

Within hours of the Buzz launch, users were complaining about a number of features (or flaws) in the service, including the fact that their Gmail and GTalk contacts were publicly revealed for everyone to see, and that the setting for making that public or private was enabled by default and/or difficult to find. Users also said blocking followers wasn’t as easy as it should have been, that they couldn’t unfollow someone if they didn’t have a Google profile, and that it wasn’t clear who would be shown in their list of followers.

Many of Google’s new products and services first undergo testing with what the company calls its Trusted Testers program, in which a small group of users — primarily friends and family members of Google employees — get early access to the service and provide feedback before it’s rolled out in open beta. This was not the case with Google Buzz, the company told the BBC, although it had been used for some time internally by Google employees themselves. “Of course, getting feedback from 20,000 Googlers isn’t quite the same as letting Gmail users play with Buzz in the wild,” Jackson said.

According to both the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times, the company has set up a “war room” at Google headquarters that monitors what users are saying about Buzz, and that the company plans to make further changes to the service in response to that feedback. The most recent changes to the service — in which Google switched from an auto-follow approach, where users found themselves following Gmail and GTalk contacts automatically, to a “suggested follow” approach — was made on Saturday by a group of Google engineers and senior executives including VP Brad Horowitz and senior engineering VP Jeff Huber. The changes are being rolled out this week.

While the company has been applauded by many for its rapid response to user complaints and the addition of new features, that doesn’t seem to have placated some privacy advocates, who say Google’s approach was wrong from the beginning. According to the LA Times, the Electronic Privacy Information Center is planning to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over Buzz. “”The bottom line is that self-regulation is not working,” center director Marc Rotenberg told the newspaper. “Google pushes the envelope, people scream and they dial back the service until the screaming subsides.”

Post photo courtesy of Flickr user So Gosehn

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