This afternoon at SXSW, a panel of Gmail and Google Buzz team members took part in a panel where they discussed what goes on behind the scenes at Gmail. The panel covered a smattering of topics, covering everything from Gmail stickers to site speed, but eventually the discussion turned to the elephant in the room: Google Buzz’s privacy shortcomings when it launched last month.
Google Product Manager Todd Jackson said that Google had learned a lot from the incident, acknowledging that Google was in error when it made the assumption that users wanted to move their email and chat contacts over to their Buzz social graph, and auto-followed them. To make sure that kind of blunder doesn’t happen again, he revealed that Google may start pre-releasing new Buzz features to small subsets of users.
So why exactly did Google Buzz launch with some key social features missing? Jackson said that while Google employees were testing out the product internally, they never had much desire to mute any of their coworkers, and that their email contact list closely matched the people they wanted to follow on Buzz. Obviously, that wasn’t true for most people once the product was released outside of the Googleplex. Which is why Google is considering pre-releasing new Buzz features to a few thousand opt-in users long before they’re rolled out to the public.
That would stand in contrast to what Google does for many of its major product launches, as Jackson says that the company doesn’t like to preannounce things (it frustrates users when they can’t try the new release out for themselves). But in the case of Buzz, where changes can have a major impact with respect to user privacy, it sounds like Google may be making an exception. Jackson also noted that he had actually asked SXSW speaker danah boyd to give her keynote talk on privacy and publicity at Google headquarters.