Just like Microsoft

February 14th, 2010

This week has completely bewildered me.

It’s no secret that I’m quite a big fan of Google. As far as the whole “we’ll give you free stuff if you let us go through your draws” deal goes, I’m fully signed up. I think it’s fair enough to say that Google know considerably more about me than I know about me.  I’m comfortable about that as I walked into this with my eyes open.

At the beginning of the week I hadn’t heard anything of Google’s  plans to take on social networking with Buzz. It surprised me that such a fully formed idea would pop up with so little notice. I’m used to the almost permanent “beta” label on Google products and usually more than a little publicity before hand. I watched the press conference it seemed a really interesting idea.

I’m a big fan of Twitter but sometimes it’s limitations really frustrate me. As a tool for quickly building a an interesting network it’s very good. As a medium for expression it’s largely rubbish. Though that’s fine, it is what it is and does what it says it is going to do. Buzz appeared to be addressing quite a few of these issues and more importantly, potentially, integrated with all my other sources of data. Great.

In the great scheme of things the development of a new form of social networking is pretty low down as a priority. Interesting, but unlikely to change the world. Or so I thought.

On the day Buzz was launched it became obvious that quite a few people were less than happy about being provided with something both new and free.

Clearly Google took a decision to launch this as a fully formed and set up product. I can understand this as being handed something that is already working is going to increase participation rates better than something that requires some degree of effort.

This article from the Guardian highlights how angry people really were about the implementation. This individual clearly has been caused a substantial degree of distress by something that she didn’t ask for (well mostly) and apparently doesn’t want. The issue really is whether or not this is something that has been done to people or whether there is a degree of culpability.

I think this is an excellent example that highlights the need for people to take personal responsibility for what they do on the Internet. It appears from the article that this persons biggest source of irritation is how Buzz had made shared items in Reader available to the wider public. This simply isn’t the case. Reader had shared item settings before Buzz was launched. Buzz simply tapped into these settings to provide them through another route.  Equally, as you go through the  Buzz  set up process it explicitly states that Buzz is connected to Reader and provides a button to disconnect.

How many people had checked their privacy settings in Reader before Buzz was launched? Seemingly very few it would seem.

There is also the issue of how Buzz develops your contact list  and whether these are the most appropriate people. I think, like most  people, the contacts I email the most are not the ones I would include in a social network. When I activated Buzz it gave me a list of people and buttons next to their names saying follow/unfollow. I deselected the ones I didn’t want to follow.

It’s a simple process, it took seconds. No information was passed to people I didn’t want it to be.

My issue with all of this is that very few of the MASSIVE PRIVACY flaws with Buzz  are valid.  There are settings that you have full control over. The issue seems to be that people did not pay sufficient attention to what they were signing up to.

This demonstrates that people have a very different, and cavalier attitude to social interaction when online.  In a real life situation you are likely to be considerably more circumspect about how you pass information to people and what you agree to. It is not the job of Google or any other company to to take on our own personal responsibility. We need to read all the words that appear in front of us and make more informed choices.

I suppose the last aspect of this that confuses me is the role of Microsoft. Essentially they have no role but are still taking a bit of the blame. The above events are being used to justify the claim that Google are “just like Microsoft”. Strangely this is intended as an insult. Just like Microsoft apparently symbolises some inexorable movement towards evil. Let’s remember that  this is Microsoft that have made us an operating system and quite a good word processor. They have quite aggressive  business practices but as far as I can work out they’ve not  killed anyone. They’re certainly no Union Carbide.

So what does this “just like Microsoft” claim mean? They’re large, well yes. They make money (lots of it), I imagine that’s why they started all this. They know about computers. Erm that’s about it.

Nobody has ever forced anyone to give either Microsoft or Google any money. If you disagree with them then don’t interact with them. They won’t mind. They have lots of money already.

There’s a point in here somewhere. Maybe even two.

My first week of using Buzz has been quite positive. The way it functions and integrates many things is much better than all the alternatives. I think it has a great potential to dominate as  a social networking tool and I’m quite  happy to take part.


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One Response to “Just like Microsoft”

  1. rdkill Says:


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