Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Yes, I did say I am a Google Fan: suggestions from a concerned fan

I consider myself as a typical Google user.  I have a geeky computer science background.  I understand how software works.  I still see myself as a coder not as a product manager or engineering manager.  And when I look at Google, I see lot of my engineering self in the company and their product.  Google is a wonderful company created by engineers and now run by engineers.  I feel this indescribable affinity when I look at beautifully simple Google search page.

Yes, I am a Google Fan and
I hope they get their privacy right
I guess you can say the same thing about Facebook, which is also started by a coder and run by a coder.  I think Facebook has done many great things with regards to creating rapid iterative engineering process and creating a super scalable platform.  Yet, when I look at Facebook, I wonder whether there is really a product that someone can use.  After all, network is only as good as people it connects you with.  Because real product of Facebook is handful of my friends who keep me entertained with their curated articles and creative postings, I don't feel their engineering work is shining through their product as much as Google Search does.

So I had to pause for a moment after writing a few of my earlier posts about Google's privacy statement revamp (here was the original post; another one here, and yet another one the other day).  Especially when David Amerland called out my post as "spoiled perhaps by over-sensationalist headline" in his thoughtful comment on Social Media Today.

I began asking myself questions like 'what prompted me to write these posts?' and 'why did I feel like Google was losing their ways with me?'  Then these questions evolved to one question: What would I have done differently if I were part of Google?

Of course I realize that this is an entirely hypothetical question, and I am only seeing partial data, i.e. from end user perspective without seeing the 360-degree view of all considerations given to strategic matter like this.  I'm sure that Larry Page had spent many more hours thinking about this than I did.  With that caveat, I will share what I would have done differently.

1. Opt-in combined identity

All or nothing Terms of Use does not provide Google users the flexibility to pick and choose.  I suppose that is exactly the reason why Google decided to make a forceful transition to combined identity, but it did not have to be that only option for those privacy-conscious users is to stop using the service.  Once people understand the ramification of combined identity and risks associated with keeping all that information with one provider, users will create their own solutions around it as we've seen many times before.

2. Crowd sourcing the identity management instead of relying on algorithmic approach

Yet I see the upside for some users who might not be so entrenched in Google products.  Occasional users might not have too much data to worry about and might be okay with keeping their identity information with Google.  For these users they might see the value outweighing the risk.  One thing to keep in mind, however, is that programmatic way of tracking users and establishing their identity has whole different feel to it than relying on users to get the suggestion.  For example, asking Blogger user to combine his Blogger account with his Google Plus account without telling them how they arrived at that suggestion -- that's what happened to me, btw -- feels different from telling the user that the suggestion came from one of my friends.  There are subtler ways to encourage combined real identity than doing things by algorithm and data.  It may take longer to get there, but it will be a smoother transition for users.

3. Phased approach instead of Big Bang

Speaking of smoother transition, current Google privacy policy enforcement could not have been more abrupt.  Starting March 1st, either you are consenting to new privacy policy or you are voting with your feet.  If there were more gradual switch over to new privacy policy, it would have had better chance at retaining those all around Google Fans.

4. Clear option to allow pseudonyms

I am a firm believer of pseudonymity.  Not only our democratic process depends on it, but also it is proven to encourage more open and constructive discussion and dialogue.  I would have provided a clear way for users to use pseudonym within acceptable boundary (perhaps you can post limited number of messages with pseudonym or something).

I really hope that Google considers those big Google Fans who use multiple Google products and what they might be going through.  I don't want to see the best technology company losing momentum because of incorrectly implemented privacy policy.

I can tell you that this is not put together by a geek;
any geek will know conditional is represented by diamond, not rectangle;
but I do hope Google gets the message

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