Archive for February 18, 2010

The Google buzz

Posted in Thoughts with tags , , , on February 18, 2010 by Mitch Leuraner

I’ve been thinking a little about Google’s recent Buzz debacle, and the flurry of responses to it.  On the surface, one could be forgiven for believing that Google might be somewhat unhappy about the way that their latest and greatest service came into the universe.  There’s certainly been all kinds of criticism, including a stern finger wagging from Canada’s Privacy Commissioner.

But when you think about it, has Google really taken a hit?  The people I’ve talked to (the ones with Gmail addresses of course) were initially annoyed that a list of their most frequent contacts could have been exposed to the world.  But most eventually realized that they hadn’t really been negatively affected by the situation and rather quickly moved on. I definitely have not met a single person who felt so strongly about the breach that they were prepared to stop using their Gmail address.

On the contrary, I have spoken to more than a few people who hadn’t even noticed the Buzz button until after the privacy stories broke – and once they checked it out, they were enthusiastic about using it!  Would they have adopted the new service so quickly if they hadn’t heard about it on the news?

Now, I’m not saying that Google intentionally allowed the privacy issues to slip through just for the publicity. There’s simply no evidence to support such an accusation.

But, I wonder if Google hasn’t become so big that it is no longer concerned about bad publicity generally. Is the giant so comfortable that it no longer foresees any possibility of risk associated with the introduction of new products? I think it’s possible.  For one thing, how come Buzz completely skipped the Google Labs? Nobody would have complained at all if the privacy issues had been identified in the lab, and Buzz really is just an extension to Gmail that could have been vetted in the labs just like countless others. But this situation seems to fit suspiciously well within the famous Google slogan:

“Don’t be evil.”

It’s an interesting slogan. Initially, it invites people to feel good about supporting the company. At the same time, it indirectly suggests that Google’s competitors are, well, evil. Clearly the idea of this slogan is to leave people with the impression that Google wants to be a good corporate citizen.

But take another look.

The slogan doesn’t say anything about Google being good, or nice, or even polite. We tend to presume that if something is not evil, it must be good – but that isn’t really the only option.  What this slogan actually says is not that Google strives to be benevolent, but that Google strives to be benign.

Well, a tumor can be benign too, but that doesn’t mean I want one.

So why isn’t Google’s slogan ‘Be good’?  Why have they opted for a negative negative, instead of a straight positive? I think it is because the company doesn’t want the limitations that striving to be good would create.

Google can pretty easily defend the current slogan by simply claiming that the Buzz issues were an accident. Google wasn’t being evil, it just made a mistake. But the reverse slogan could not be justified so easily – mistakes are never good, even if they are unavoidable.

To be fair, Google has done a lot of good for the development of the internet, if not the world at large. I’m certainly happy with the immediate and relevant results that appear when I use the search, and Google Maps with Streets View has completely changed the way that I travel.

But at the same time, (hypocritically for sure) I worry that continuing to feed the giant is a dangerous path to follow.

Today the giant doesn’t want to be evil, but what about tomorrow?

Facebook project update

Posted in Thoughts with tags , , , on February 18, 2010 by Mitch Leuraner

It seems that my Facebook project is taking off significantly slower than I had anticipated.  Dispite all the hype and hoop-law around social networks and privacy issues, people seem to be genuinely hesitant to add a stranger as a “friend”.  Now I readily admit that social networking has never really been my thing – online and offline, I’m just not that good at it. In fact, the Facebook profile that I have created specifically for this project really is the only one that I have. There isn’t some other Mitch Leuraner profile with connections to dozens of my friends and family. (At least, not one managed by me!)

But when I came up with the idea of creating a profile specifically for interacting with complete strangers, I figured it would be easy.  It feels like the media has been constantly warning people about the dangers of allowing personal aspects of their lives to be displayed.

I figured that, since everyone had already become comfortable with strangers pretending to be “friends”, I would surely be able to gain trust by admitting to my plans upfront.

Surely nobody would object to such a simple project…

Well, I was wrong for sure. (And so was the media!) So far I’ve found that people are genernally not willing to share their lives with me.  And I can’t really blame them of course – other than the knowledge that they are contributing to my own understanding of humanity, they have nothing to gain from letting me into their lives.

But, I’ve been thinking about the near wholesale rejection (at time of writing I had only managed to amass three friends) in terms of what it might say about people, our news media, and online social networking in general.

I’m not ready to proclaim that all friends really are friends, but I am learning that few friends are actually strangers.

For now, the project continues.  I’ll keep you posted.

ps. Take a look in the links (on the right side of the home page) to find my Facebook profile!