Google scrambles to fix Events after celebs yelp

flood

Despite the “Google+ is a ghost town” mantra, a number of high-profile or widely connected people are active users who promote what they like. They also yelp when they’re unhappy and when Google+ Events went live during the week’s Google I/O, flooding feeds and stuffing calendars, that’s what some of them did — drawing attention to a launch for all the wrong reasons.

Actor/geek Wil Wheaton started to see the results almost immediately, posting late Wednesday afternoon:

Did G+ roll out some new “invite everyone you follow to an event” thing? My feed is completely overwhelmed with “everyone’s invited to XXXXX event” notices, and I’m having a hard time actually seeing posts from people I’m following. … Is there a way to opt-out of event invites from people I don’t follow or have circled? Is this yet another thing Google rolled out without thinking it through clearly?

A little later, he was getting a better understanding of the new feature but it was too late:

It’s too bad that I’ll never use it, and will kill it with fire, because Google has, yet again, made a product that may be useful and cool, but forced it upon users without giving users any control over how invasive it is.

Wheaton not only has a large following, he’s an active poster and checkers his Google+ feed every half hour or so when he’s online. He likes Google+ and is just as frustrated by what he sees as Google’s failure with it as he was with this feature gone awry:

Instead of talking about how cool this thing is, and how excited we are to use it, a significant number of G+ users — and people like Linus Torvalds, who are way more influential than I am are among them — are talking about how annoyed they are and how much they hate it.

Is that the rollout that Google was hoping for? Has Google learned nothing from doing things like this in the past? I’m starting to believe that this isn’t an accident, or poor planning, but by design; I just can’t figure out why.

Author John Scalzi was irked enough to post around midnight Wednesday:

My newest circle is “People who send me a ‘test’ Google Events Invite, and must therefore be torn apart by ravenous bears.” Try not to be in it. The bears are getting tired.

By Thursday, Wheaton was trying again, providing examples, to back up his contention that only people in your own circles should be allowed to send you Events. Among them: unwanted invitations and messages about the Guild Wars 2 release date. The last straw was someone who set up a fake event with Wheaton’s name in it, prompting him to warn “the system as it’s set up right now is ripe for abuse.”

That finally drew a chagrined response in Wheaton’s comments from Vic Gundotra, the Google SVP of engineering responsible for Google+:

“We are doing exactly what you requested. We should have contemplated and anticipated how people would abuse this and how painful this could be for celebrities with large followings.

We have pushed a number of fixes yesterday (some were bug fixes that showed up at scale). Expect more fixes today. Sorry for the trouble Will.”

The right response, although Gundotra shouldn’t have limited it to “celebrities” and should have been more clear about the fixes and bugs.

An exasperated Robert Scoble was still dealing with the aftereffects late Thursday afternoon when he broadcast on Google+ and Twitter that Google+ Events was “The worst social launch ever. WTF were you thinking Google?” He called out Gundotra directly, adding a new twist:

Not only did it spam the crap out of my notifications and my Google+ events page but it added events — hundreds of them — onto my calendar.

My calendar is MINE. Not yours. You should NEVER put anything on it that I don’t approve of.

Scoble said declining the events didn’t make them disappear, requiring hundreds of entries to be deleted by one by one. It’s not the end of the world but it’s the kind of tech time sink that can frustrate to the point of a primal scream.

Google also is showing an Events opt-in screen on Google Calendar. I was in a rush when I first saw it and decided to adhere to a rule I’ve been trying to follow: don’t opt in if you don’t have time to read the fine print.

Even now, it’s difficult to see from the splash screen or the “learn more” page just how much noise you might be agreeing to if you opt in.

If you look at events through Google+ instead of your Google calendar, you can start to figure it out by choosing settings and scrolling around a lot. There is still no simple or direct way to set parameters specifically for events, as far as I can tell.

Google needs Google+ Events to work for a number of reasons: it encourages interaction between features like Google+, calendar and Gmail; it’s social so should bring more Google+ users together; it encourages photo sharing; and it should bring new users in.

If Google can manage the parachute-bike-rappel routine that wowed the Moscone Center crowd, someone there ought to be able to figure out how to introduce new features without alienating its users.

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