Google Buzz: it’s not slipping into darkness

PR Week ran an article this week Google backtracks over concerns on Google Buzz privacy settings. I commented as part of the article on how Google at the moment has the permission to innovate, but with too many failures that permission may be rescinded.

I wanted to expand on a couple of concepts around the article as I realise that it maybe read by many people particularly in the PR industry who don’t understand how technology works and how the sector works.

Firstly, Google’s Buzz problems and ‘real-world’ product recalls that other industries from toys to cars face are very different. Since Google provides a service and the ‘product’ never leaves the Google data-centre it is really easy to make iterative improvements fast.

When I worked at Yahoo! we could roll out normal, (not high-priority) changes every fortnight; usually during the middle-of-the-week. It will be a similar situation at Google. When you have something as high-priority as the privacy issue, you can bet that heaven and earth will be moved, so that once-a-fortnight schedule can be shrunk a bit and it has been with the first fixes rolling out within a few days.

Contrast this with Kryptonite who took months to rectify their lock problem when it became worldwide news six years ago, or the months of fixing braking systems that Toyota is going to go through.

One of the things that Mark Pack was concerned with was that Buzz was obviously an early ‘beta’ release, but not labeled as such. Beta release is a software term that traditionally means that your mileage may vary on a product. Features may vary, appearances change and the service may be flaky.

But with the advent of web services beta has become more than a label or a stage in software development: into a state-of-mind. Google has helped train at least some of the public into the into the beta mindset. Most of the time that consumers bet on Google has been rewarded with a product that provides superior utility; for example Google Search, Blogger and GMail. This earned Google their licence to innovate.

So what would it take to have Google’s licence to innovate revoked? Will Buzz have it revoked? No. Not by a long shot. Google has made some products that disappointed (Q&A, Wave, Jaiku, Orkut – big in Brazil is a fact, not an excuse) of which Buzz may be one of them, but the licence being revoked will be a cumulative ‘straw-on-the-camel’s back’ kind of thing.

As a good rule of thumb, check out the way the world slowly turned against Microsoft. It wasn’t Microsoft Bob and Windows’95 was a ‘greater-than-Vista’ technical cock-up that turned into a classic case study into how you can make lemonade out of lemons. It was a number of things: the anti-trust case, the devastation of the start-up industry as no one wanted to start a business in an area Microsoft may want, the BSOD (blue-screen-of-death) that told you it was time for a coffee break, the ‘I love you’ virus and countless other Windows perils that ran the goodwill meter down.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that Google is not slipping into darkness, despite Buzz not being the company’s brightest hour.