Privacy update for Google Buzz – removing auto-follow

Google has rolled out updates to Google Buzz in the wake of privacy concerns, including replacing auto-following with suggestions for people to follow. And although the change was actually made back in February, an update today will make this change apparent to anyone who signed up before February 13th.

Aside from the fact that there has been a sizeable user backlash on the privacy problems initially created by Google Buzz, and potentially the service has failed to take off, Google also has another major privacy issue. Google Buzz is under investigation by the U.S FTC (Federal Trade Commission).

One example of the reason is that White House Deputy CTO Andrew McLaughlin, a former Google employee, recently found his Google Buzz account revealed many of his Gmail accounts publicly, including a number of Google lobbyists or lawyers. His account has now been deleted after a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request.

There’s also a new Youtube channel for Google to share tips and tricks on using Google Buzz.

And new settings in your Googlemail preferences mean that you can now control which Buzz items arrive via email in future, to decide between comments on your posts, comments on posts after you’ve contributed, and comments on posts after you’ve been @replied on them. The promised ‘mute’ button hasn’t quite arrived yet, but the problem with Buzz is that it needs to keep changing incredibly quickly to adapt, and it needs to work across 50+ Gmail languages from the start without causing problems with latency or downtime.

Every other social network started small and then grew exponentially – Twitter, Facebook, Myspace etc. In the case of Google Buzz, it attempted to get a headstart by launching to millions and then adapting – something which might prove akin to trying to change natural evolution.

Improvements to Google Buzz email alerts

Google Buzz may have had a lot of issues when it launched, but it seems as if the team behind it are continuing to fix them in double quick time.

The latest update is that two new controls are coming for the inbox notifications from Google Buzz. The first will let you filter what content starts coming into your email, whilst the second allows you to mute conversations. Revealed in a Google Buzz message, the features are:

‘1) Settings to control what gets sent to your inbox
You’ll be able to choose whether the following buzz items get sent to your inbox:
- Comments on your posts
- Comments on posts after you comment on them
- Comments on posts after you are @replied on them
2) Explanations for why posts get sent to your inbox and a “Mute” link
We’re adding a message on the top of each post in your inbox that explains why it’s there (someone commented on your post, you were @replied, etc.). We’re also adding an easy-to-find “mute” link that will stop subsequent comments from bringing the conversation back to your inbox.’

And apparently the team continue to look at the noise issue of Buzz – something which only became apparent after the public release, as all prior testing of the service was done internally at Google. This helped to keep the service secret prior to launch, but also meant that a small and very specific group was involved in testing, and issues such as email addresses being displayed weren’t flagged as problems.

My Christmas: Information as gifts…

One of the detractions around social media, social networking and blogging etc is that there are plenty of people in the ‘real world’ who don’t give a monkeys about the internet.

Which may well be true, but in addition to the somewhat reasonable 140 million+ active users on Facebook, this holiday season emphasised how the world is changing on a personal level – namely the relationship between an online geek (me), and his almost technophobe parents.

It started pre-Christmas, when my folks replaced their aging desktop with a shiny new laptop and signed up for broadband. (For reference, the desktop must be about 10 years old, and they were still on dial-up!)

Then they started asking me to find albums by relatively niche Irish folk artists on Amazon. And my mother decided to borrow Tribes - which is promising as she completed a degree in sociology in her spare time a few years ago with marks I’ll always be proud and envious of!

But Christmas really was The Tipping Point.

For starters, their gift to me was a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Outliers: The Story of Success.

My gift in return was a webcam, and a quick lesson in using Windows Live Messenger, Gmail, and Flickr. (We tried Twitter but that’s probably a step too far!)

The reasons were simple:

1. They already have a hotmail email account, and although there might be better IM clients, not only is Windows Live Messenger pretty simple and easy to use, but enough people use it that I wouldn’t be sole technical support.

The main reason is that it means they can see their grandson on webcam whenever we’re online.

2. Gmail is intended to be a starting point for them to hopefully move to Google Calendar,  Google Docs etc.

The main reason is that it means I can share my calendar so we can all schedule our lives and events without playing telephone tennis for days and weeks beforehand. Facebook might also be useful, but that’s for Phase 2!

3. Flickr is a nice way to start seeing the value of sharing images, tagging, etc.

But the main thing is that my dad has always had an artistic side which is always underexploited, and has always be into photography. Plus they can see ‘family only’ images of the family.

We’ve already had a couple of webcam enabled chats over IM, and I’m hoping it’ll encourage them to explore and try other new ways to share and communicate with friends and family.  I’m certainly past the age of worrying that connecting with my parents might make me seem less cool, or that they’d see an inappropriate picture or comment – at my age, the chances to behave inappropriately are frustratingly rare!

2 great productive solutions – Other Inbox and Remember the Milk for Gmail

I’ve been spending a lot of time hypothesizing about various things, so I’ll redress the balance with two practical tools I’m using which have really helped me recently.

Signing up for so many services for both work and pleasure put a real strain on my email inbox. So much so, that i was starting to dread the next time I had to enter my email address into a signup box to figure out whether a service was any good or not. Thankfully, something in my memory suddenly kicked into gear and I remembered a friend (Thanks, Tim) had invited me to OtherInbox.

I’ve started using it today, and it’s a simple and brilliant solution. When you sign up for a new service, simply used servicename@username.otherinbox.com. Then, all registration emails, updates and any spam is sent to Other Inbox, and automatically filed into folders for each service.

So I can easily find my login details, or check which services might have led to spam emails, without having to set up 101 fake email addresses!

The other huge productivity boon comes from my final acceptance that Googlemail really is awesome – particularly with Google labs opening up to Gadgets. I already inserted Google Docs into my email account, which is useful, but then I found out Task Management service Remember the Milk now has a Google Gadget! That means I now have my email, documents I’m working on, and my task list in one place to keep track.

Combine that with using OtherInbox for better filtering, and suddenly Googlemail is becoming a personal hub for my online life and reinvigorating my waning interest in ever using email.

I can already see myself with 3 hubs for my entire life.

  1. One for my external publishing on blogs etc,
  2. One for managing my personal profiles,
  3. One for my personal communication and productivity.

Google is already taking care of 3. And various Twitter and blog uploading applications are competing for my attention. Meanwhile OpenSocial and Facebook Connect are working towards solving 2.

Redesign and improve Googlemail and Google services

I may be running around London for most of the day, but I can still find time to praise the Google Redesigned plugin, which uses CSS to restyle and improve Google services like email.

Everything looks better, is more usable, and I’ve had no reliability problems…thanks to ‘T’ for the tip.

Google Redesigned Screenshot

Twitter gets an upgrade…

Well, the only thing I can see that I think might be new on Twitter is
Awesome new feature!
Search Gmail Contacts
and follow more folks.

Sadly so far, I’ve tried the link twice, and it has yet to work…Still, it always takes time to get used to super powers.

(I’m sure someone will point out the option has been there for years, and I’ve just failed to spot it)…

Edit: 4:54pm….False alarm. It’s down again. And judging by the latest Tweets by my friends, noone else has managed to post today…