February 18, 2010

Google Lets Fearmongers and Unbelievers Opt Out of Buzz

Google's expansion and knowledge of the many things you do online collectively has some corners of the Web distrusting every move the Mountain View giant makes - even when they tell you in advance what they are doing, and how it might effect you. The company's moves toward openness and embracing of standards, though lauded by the tech community, haven't converted the confused masses who often at times seem to be blindly following a Pied Piper of fear, making them think the big G is reading your e-mail, sending updates to the NSA, and really cares whether you look at porn sites or not in your Web history. Take this simmering population, sprinkle on an aggressive push toward converting a private network (GMail) to a public one (Buzz), and the overwrought cries of fear and anguish were as predictable as rain. And now, after ten days of being thrown under the bus by head in the sand privacy-shrieking luddites, Google has had to backtrack again, repeatedly apologizing and now, letting you extract Buzz from your GMail like shrapnel from the field of battle.

Practically without exceptions, the hue and cry around Buzz, beyond those of us who embraced the new social network, was made by people who were not impacted by Buzz' move to "auto follow" in the first place. The examples given, from business partners, or potential headhunters, journalists' sources, psychiatrist clients and other possible unwanted revealings, were conjecture based on a complete lack of reality that ignored the fact that the majority of business e-mail is done through Microsoft Exchange, or if on Google's own products, in Apps, which doesn't yet support Buzz. Professionals leveraging free Web e-mail, which Gmail continues to be today, despite being exponentially better than its other free competitors, are getting what they pay for.

You Can Opt Out of Buzz If You Think You'll Get Stung

In comparison, the real potential problems with Buzz's gaining attraction, including assumed noise, and lacking of perfect integration into all networks on Day One, have been outshouted by the same people who squirm every time Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team move more toward public sharing and search discovery, and away from walled gardens. But again, the shrill minority has taken its pound of flesh, as Google's momentum with Buzz has taken body blow after body blow, primarily from an older generation of tech bloggers and business journalists unwilling or undesiring to embrace today's world of active sharing and aggregation.

After mea culpa following mea culpa, the Buzz team has released the option to disable Buzz outright, deleting all your posts, disconnecting your sites and users you are following. You also have the option to hide Buzz from your GMail (which doesn't make it go away, but hides it from you), in the event you suffer from severe distraction and interruption disorder.

You can find the new setting in GMail, where there is a new Buzz tab, letting you also hide those people you are following, either for your own sake, or theirs.

Amidst the din of the pack clustering around the body of Buzz, kicking at it like a group of children at a 6-year-olds' youth soccer match striking at a ball, some folks have seen beyond the tin foil hat nonsense and told people to look forward to something new. Thomas Hawk says to not listen to the naysayers, adding "they're wrong". But as I said Google blinked at the end of 2007, when the Reader team capitulated to the mob, a recalcitrant public is once again getting caught up in a world of old rules and ideals.

Knowing this nonsense would spring up, I asked Google vice president Bradley Horowitz on the option of "public" and automated friending when getting a preview of Buzz the Monday before its launch. His answer is as useful today as it was then:

"One thing that I have learned is that there are people who will always dislike a change you have made, including not making a change," he said. "We don't want to be prescriptive and say everything is public now. Sometimes it is an intimate sharing of an experience with coworkers, family and giving it to the right audience. The world is not going to abandon one form, but we would like people to have the right tools to make decisions for themselves."

Now the decision is truly in your hands. Want out of Buzz? Go to your GMail, click "Settings" and click "Buzz", and you can opt out of what is proving to be a very interesting network. Should you choose to instead embrace innovation, you can find me here: http://www.google.com/profiles/louisgray

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