There’s a few ways I could take this.
1. I could call people idiots for not understanding the meaning of the word “public.”
2. I could call the Google Reader team idiots for not putting GPC into its social networking and sharing features.
3. I could call the media idiots for not explaining these features better and for even making it sound like stuff that isn’t shared at all is being shared (which absolutely isn’t true).
I’m going to take #2: that the Google Reader team screwed up here and needs to implement GPC as soon as possible. What’s GPC? Granular Privacy Controls.
Here’s how Google screwed up: Google didn’t understand that some users thought that their shared items feeds were private and didn’t know that they were going to be turned totally public. The users who are complaining about this feature assumed that since their feed had a weird URL (here’s mine so you can see that the URL isn’t easy to figure out the way other URLs are) that their feed couldn’t be found by search engines or by people who they didn’t explicitly give the URL to, etc. In other words, that their feed and page would, really, be private, even though it was shared in a public way without a password required or anything like that.
Now, I almost took the stance that the users are wrong. Except, well, in this case they aren’t and the Google Reader team should change the way this feature works.
When you share a feed item you should have a choice about whether it is made really public (like my feeds are) or whether you keep them for just certain friends to view. Google needs to look to Facebook for leadership here.
If I don’t want you to see some content on Facebook I can lock you out while letting other friends see it. That’s “GPC.”
Facebook has GPC. Google Reader does not.
Social networking services that don’t have GPC will increasingly piss off users and chase them away to competitors that DO have GPC. Look at why SmugMug is so popular (and why its users PAY for the service!) A big part of it is GPC.
But, to the users you still are idiots for not understanding that when Google says “public” Google MEANS public. I’m not sure how much clearer Google could have made it, other than to maybe put a disclaimer that says something like “this feed might look sorta private right now, but we reserve the right to put this feed into public view at anytime for any reason. If you don’t want your shared items to be seen by everyone, please don’t share them.
I think the Google Reader team knew that it was going to have a problem here, though, because they gave its users the ability to delete all items in their shared item feed. Scary feature, too. I’ve spent thousands of hours building up that database and I almost used it by accident cause it sounded like a good feature to try. Yikes, glad I thought a little bit more than I usually do that night.
Anyway, Google Reader team: please enable GPC. Your users will keep yelling and screaming until you do. I know, cause a few of them have yelled and screamed at me about this feature.
UPDATE: I just signed in and there are 444 items shared with me from my friends. That’s not even counting the feed items that come to me just because of my almost 800 feeds. Yikes! Demonstrates that even Christmas can’t stop the information glut we’re seeing.