‘Reminder: Call Dad' Is Another Notch In Google's Belt Of Social Fail

Google, Google, Google … I don’t know if it’s that you just don’t understand the intricacies of interpersonal relationships or if getting the social stuff right is just extremely difficult …

Whatever the cause, it looks like you’ve made another faux pas with your innocent Father’s Day reminder to give Dad a call via Gmail for Father’s Day, which offended the sizable number of people who for one reason or another weren’t able to call their fathers yesterday.

The backlash, taking place primarily in this support thread in Google’s Voice Chat forum, Twitter and Hacker News, refers specifically to the note under Chat in Gmail that said “Reminder: Call dad” all day.

This note clearly rubbed some users the wrong way, “I very recently lost my dad and while I understand the sentiment, having that ‘reminder’ there is incredibly mocking” and “Isn’t this day hard enough without my own computer rubbing it in my face?” are typical of the somewhat painful comments about the feature, which was also difficult to remove.

Albeit micro, ‘Reminder: Call dad’ is just one more example of Google not entirely grasping social niceties. It should be obvious that putting up a status message that’s offensive to some users (especially users whose fathers have passed away, or were abusive, et al.), in a place that most people consider private, might not go over well.  But it wasn’t.

As many of the Hacker News commenters pointed out, the line between what should be public versus private is the kicker here. People don’t get angry when Google uses its homepage logo to celebrate a holiday (in fact Google also put the same reminder on its homepage, to lesser complaint) because they consider the homepage a public space.

HN commenter djcapelis explained,

“It’s the difference between someone coming up to you on the bus and asking you if you’ve called your father and a poster on the side of the bus asking if you’ve called your father.

When you put your message in someone’s personal space, you don’t get to just say ‘eh, it’s probably only a small fraction’ because you’re specifically communicating with specific people.”

But Google has had a hard time drawing the line between public and private, most notably with the Google Buzz privacy settings, which lead one user to write a blog post entitled “Fuck You, Google” as well as to a FTC investigation, all because Buzz’s strange conception of what a frequent contact means.

Because it is considered a public space, Google has been doing its Doodle shtick pretty much without incident. But there needs to be more awareness of the fact that some holidays are sensitive and should be treated as such when moving into more granular marketing messages like today’s. As one armchair commenter remarked, “Would they have a status message to call your gay friends on Gay Pride, or your Jewish friends on Rosh Hashanah?”

In contrast, Facebook expertly let users take the reigns on Father’s Day, playing host to a meme where people uploaded pictures of their Dads to their Facebook profiles, not getting in the way of people who wanted to celebrate the holiday but not shoving it down the throats of those who didn’t.

I am 100% sure Google intended “Reminder: Call Dad” to be a cute, heartfelt message. But its execution was flawed to say the least. Taking into account its stumbles with Orkut, Dodgeball, Buzz, Wave and (some might say) +1 and the fact that 25% of all employee bonuses are now reportedly based on Google “getting” social, Google should really take user feedback to heart on this one.

Or perhaps hire a team of hybrid UX/UI/psychologist geniuses? Before this happens again.