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SXSW: Google Accepts Buzz Criticism, Invites Boyd to Speak on Privacy

Google, (s GOOG) 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.

Todd Jackson, product manager for Gmail and Buzz

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.

For the GigaOM network’s complete SXSW coverage, check out this round-up.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Google Buzz’s True Home Is in the Enterprise

Can Enterprise Privacy Survive Social Networking?

12 Responses to “SXSW: Google Accepts Buzz Criticism, Invites Boyd to Speak on Privacy”

  1. I hope Todd Jackson realizes that the only bad thing about Buzz’s roll-out was that it was not the Google-y way of doing things. I bet he learnt a lot of great lessons in the past few weeks and months.

    I hope Google doesn’t punish its people for making mistakes, and values them for the wisdom that mistakes bring to its people and to it as a company.

  2. @ Nitin & Sanjay above –

    Guys, your contention that Google acts as if it owns the users’ data is totally unsupported by facts. From day No. 1, Buzz never ever made public any information that users explicitly wanted to keep private. Buzz only published information that people had chosen to make public, perhaps inadvertently.

    Among all the modern Internet companies, Google is the only one which is taking real steps to free the users’ data and make it easy for them to export their data and leave its services, if they choose to. Check out Google’s Data Liberation Front. This is truly a fresh and inspired initiative by Google at a time when most companies want to make it hard for the users to take their data and leave. In this respect, Google and Facebook are miles apart and shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same sentence.

    Cheers, etc.

  3. Are companies taking data ownership for granted when they launch new products and ideas. Granted that with the popularity of social media users feel fairly comfortable with the data thy shar ein public but this should never be taken as silent accpetance. My bet is and I stronlgy believe in the fact that the first social media company to offer full privacy of data where users have the ultimate control over who sees what will carve a niche in the market place and stand out from the rest. I have a few ideas on this but only if anyone would listen.
    Great to see Google’s commitment is there to fix the problem.

  4. An issue that most social network providers (except Twitter to some extent) have avoided is “Who owns the data?” but they always act as if they are the sole owners of the data. If Facebook and Google started from the premise that “the user owns their data – we host it for them” they would never have these issues. But they act as if they own the data exclusively (not even as shared owners) so they don’t take into account the need to get the user’s permission to make the data public.
    Data ownership is like the heliocentric model which greatly simplifies discussions. Currently we are acting as if the social network provider is the center – ie the geocentric model – and al these discussions get very very complicated like the models of the solar system when people though the earth was the center.
    Restore the right center – the user owns the data – and none of this nonsense and noise is needed. The social networl provider needs the user’s permission to do anything with the raw data, period. Aggregated numbers for engineering, marketing and advertising may be ok. But raw data ie making a user’s address book public clearly needs a user’s permission.

    I find it hard to believe that the smartest brains on the planet – ie people at Google have not thoight about it.

    They are just following the shameless Zuckerberg model “assume it’s all yours, do what you want, if people complain pretend ignorance and bactrack and be civil about it”. It seems to work again and again.

    I find it amazing that no one calls them on it – I am glad Danah Boyd is addressing the issue. I hope she addresses data ownership some day. Then we’ll have a simpler model of the social network solar system with the user as the rightful center.