Google ruining Christmas? Get a grip

by Mathew on December 26, 2007 · 22 comments

Since I’m full of the milk of human kindness after a wonderful Christmas, I’ve been trying to remain calm in the face of all the Google Reader hysteria about shared items and so on — but wiping out on some ice yesterday and landing on my ass has made it hard to stay serene (combined with gashing my hand playing Wii baseball), so I can’t help pointing out that much of the moaning about “privacy” is just ridiculous.

Like Stan over at Mashable, I’m wondering what part of the word “shared” isn’t being understood in this whole scenario. Are the people who are complaining non-English speakers? That seems unlikely. So the idea of “sharing” items on your Google Reader must be one they are at least glancingly familiar with. Scoble has decided to take the high road and blame Google for not implementing ‘granular privacy controls’ — and that might be a good thing for Reader, just as it would be for Facebook.

But it’s not something that’s necessary, in my opinion, nor is it something Google should be slammed for not having. The company explained that shared items would be visible to GTalk contacts — pretty simple, in my opinion. Plus, they can only be seen by contacts who also use Google Reader, and those contacts have to specifically click on the shared items from other users to see them. It’s not as if they’re being emailed to your friends, or scrolling by on the Jumbotron.

Would GPC be handy to have? Sure. Would a better contact management system be good? No doubt. But if you want to keep something private in Reader, but still save it for later, there’s a simple way of doing that: use the “Star” function. The word “share” means exactly what it implies. In case anyone is interested, my shared items are here. They may not be as interesting as Scoble’s, but they’re the best I can do (they’re in the sidebar of my blog as well, via a Reader widget).

Update:

Steve Rubel has a post that shows how to share items with a certain group of people without having them shared with every member of your Google contact list — share them by using a special tag. And now Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins at Mashable says that Google has added the ability to move all of your shared items to a new tag if you wish to stop sharing them with everyone and only share them with certain people. The official Google blog post on the topic is here.

  • jwestfall

    OH NO THE SKY IS FALLING! I never understood the hysteria about this this week. Since Ol' Goog married GTalk and GReader almost two weeks ago to the day, you figure people would have expected this to happen, it's only a natural progression. But no, people are bemoaning the fact that their contacts can see their feeds.

    Let alone ignore the fact that, as you stated, they have to use GReader too. And you have to share items. And you have to specifically share your feeds with certain people in your list, or allow access to the shared feed. It seems in the Christmas fury, everyone forgot that just because you share an item doesn't mean everyone — or anyone — actually sees it without you authorizing them to.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I agree, J. Pretty dumb, I think.

  • http://www.louisgray.com/live/ Louis Gray

    It is absolutely not a violation of privacy. It's this simple. When you “Shared” the item, you made it part of the public domain with a public URL. If you want to keep it private, don't share it.

    The Web is more transparent than ever. Blogging is public. Del.icio.us bookmarks are public. Shared items are public. The whining needs to stop.

    Forget About Privacy. Embrace Openness.
    http://www.louisgray.com/live/2007/12/forget-ab

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I agree, Louis.

  • http://bobcaswell.com Bob Caswell

    I can see how this a “no big deal” topic for the “embrace openness” crowd, which decided a long time ago that privacy was underrated. But outside, where the rest of the world lives, I mean, come on, is it that hard to see how this potentially could be an issue?

    I agree with Erick of TechCrunch in that this is more of a consumer perception problem than a privacy problem. And, Mathew, perhaps I don't understand the word “share.” But last time I checked, it didn't imply “publicly share” any more than “privately share.” And I'm sure you've done plenty of both types of sharing in your life to realize that the issue has little to do with semantics.

    But I do agree that the “ruining Christmas” rhetoric is a bit much.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Bob, I'm not sure who you think the “share” function shares your
    Google Reader items with, but I thought it was pretty obvious they
    were shared with others, including others using Google Reader. In
    fact, I was kind of surprised that the feature everyone is complaining
    about wasn't part of the sharing function to begin with. What sense
    does it make to assume that they are “shared” only with yourself?
    Like I said, that's what the star function is for.

  • http://bobcaswell.com Bob Caswell

    Ah, but “with others” is much different than “whoever Google decides based on a change implemented.” Again, maybe you don't care or understood this was a logical progression. But a change did happen that does cause more open sharing that didn't necessarily happen before…

    People probably didn't assume sharing was “only with yourself,” rather, they probably assumed it was with “who I decide.” But now Google has come out and basically said, “no, with who we decide, not you.” And the way Google communicated that sucked royally, imho. And when a big company sucks at communicating with its users, crybabies tend to point it out.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Bob, I'm prepared to admit that Google may have communicated the
    change badly, or been less sympathetic with users than it should have
    been. To me, those are separate issues. If I'm sharing something, I
    assume it will be with other Google Reader users or with my social
    network — and I don't think Google can be faulted for making the
    assumption that your GTalk contacts are a reasonable facscimile of
    your social network. I will agree with MG Siegler at ParisLemon,
    though, that Google needs to make it easier for you to manage those
    contacts.

  • http://blog.frivolousmotion.com Kevin

    I can see where Bob is coming from here – that for the “outside world” things might be a little unclear. But I actually think Google has done a good job in trying to explain with whom Shared Items are shared. The first time I used the feature it told me that things were being made public, and I would argue that those who use the feature to begin with likely have a decent idea of what they're doing – having most likely shared stuff on other social networks and used the “email this” buttons on news sites, etc. in the past.

    It's tough to know where the non-tech-savvy users fall on the spectrum of understanding, but my guess would be that by and large they understand that sharing means “make public.” Could be wrong, of course, but again, I think Google did what could be reasonably expected of them. If a person doesn't understand the basic concept of sharing to begin with, granular privacy controls are pretty much useless.

    That said, the thing that bothers me about this debate is that individuals who throw around terms like “URL Obfuscation” were somehow surprised by this. I have a strong feeling that much of the indignation expressed is not personally felt, but on the behalf of some (perhaps imaginary) users somewhere out there.

    As with the Facebook News Feed, I get the sense that the noise is being made by a small contingent of “privacy is dying!” folks, while the vast majority of users think, “oh cool,” and the “openness people” trumpet their usual “privacy is dead” horns. Two edges attempting to rile a mass of people who probably don't care.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I think you are probably bang on there, Kevin — it's more of a proxy
    battle between the “privacy is dead” and the “openness is good” camps,
    each using the theoretical average user (who probably doesn't know or
    care) as a blunt instrument in their rhetorical feud.

  • http://bobcaswell.com Bob Caswell

    Interesting… Maybe I'm pointing out the obvious here, but if the average user doesn't know or care about these kinds of privacy issues (which I happen to agree with mostly), then hasn't the “openness is good” crowd already won by default?

    I have yet to see anything remotely close to what Scoble described (granular privacy controls). That is, most all online identities are just one big on/off switch for public vs. private, at best. And if average users don't know or care, then changing that is probably way down on the list for any company.

    I personally think these types of features could be useful and are long overdue. But that's a whole different story, and I'm likely not in the average user group.

  • http://blog.jayeyesea.com jon bradford

    Here here. The voice of reason. “Sharing” is a matter of choice – the users choice. It might be a little singular – one share for all – but a choice all the same.

    And the benefits are substantial – a human filtered rss feed – now i can go on holiday – “mute” my feeds and refer to my fellow bloggers on my return.

    Hooray for a happy holiday!!

  • http://bobcaswell.com Bob Caswell

    Indeed. Offline, I share information with contacts and friends differently based on lots of factors. I'd love to do the same online.

  • http://www.markevanstech.com Mark Evans

    I've never viewed share on Google Reader as anything other than making it public to anyone who's interested. Then again, i star more than I share.

  • Project

    Finally, an opinion that matches my own. The current whinge mentality of the blogosphere is kinda starting to piss me off.

    Lets refresh our memories of what shared items are, in Googles own words, inside Reader when you click on it.

    “Your shared items are publicly accessible.
    They are available as a page at http://www.google.com/reader/shared/xxxxxx (and there's a feed too) “

    Are people seriously going to argue that Shared items are anything but? Its crystal clear. Black and white.

    If people want a private bookmarking service, use the Star or create a tag of your own. Click Settings > Tags and you will see that you can make any arbitrary tag public or private.

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  • http://schlerplotti.typepad.com/quantworks/ Mike Reynolds

    I agree completely. This is a non-issue. It is very obvious that Shared Items are, well, shared. Google even clearly states the items have their own public RSS feed.

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  • Collette

    I'm with Bob 100% on this one.

    I knew my shared items were public, but I also thought it was only if someone stumbled upon them, or if i sent them the link. I never imagined that they would be PUSHED to my gmail contacts. and that's what Google did and is doing.

    I really, so very much really don't want my ex-husband being pushed my shared items feed. it's just creepy!! and I need to keep him as a gmail contact because we share custody of our dog. so, removing him as a contact is not an option.

    so, now I don't “share” any items but re-tag them. and I have emailed the few people I know reading my shared items to tell them of the new feed. but this is more hassle and completely stupid.

  • Collette

    I'm with Bob 100% on this one.

    I knew my shared items were public, but I also thought it was only if someone stumbled upon them, or if i sent them the link. I never imagined that they would be PUSHED to my gmail contacts. and that's what Google did and is doing.

    I really, so very much really don't want my ex-husband being pushed my shared items feed. it's just creepy!! and I need to keep him as a gmail contact because we share custody of our dog. so, removing him as a contact is not an option.

    so, now I don't “share” any items but re-tag them. and I have emailed the few people I know reading my shared items to tell them of the new feed. but this is more hassle and completely stupid.

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