Could Google Reader team have done a better PR job?

Looking back on it I’m wondering if the Google Reader team could have done a few things differently in the PR realm?

Looking at the advice to startups that ReadWriteWeb gave the answer is clear: yes.

Did the Google Reader team show anyone at a conference the new feature? No. Strike @1.
Did the Google Reader team do a video? No. Strike #2.
Did the Google Reader team brief bloggers ahead of time and get their feedback? No. Strike #3.
Did the Google Reader team show its #1 customer/user these features and get feedback? No. Strike #4.
Did the Google Reader team give an interview to a video journalist like Kara Swisher (or me) before release? No. Strike #5.
Did the Google Reader team release on Tuesday-Thursday, like ReadWriteWeb suggests? No. Strike #6.
Did the Google Reader team have a demo to show off? No. Strike #7.

Now, I’m not saying that the community still wouldn’t have reacted the way it did, but at least we would have had a dialog going and we would have had a lot more to go on and talk about than what they did end up doing, which was releasing a short blog post about the new features without even a screen shot.

That, to me, is setting up the team to fail.

It’s amazing to me that the company that owns TWO video services doesn’t get the power of video. Hello, Vic Gundotra, what’s going on here? Where was the campfire for new stuff? If the Google Reader team showed this to a few bloggers over a campfire they might have heard this feedback earlier when they could have done something about it.

Google Reader needs GPC

Oh, man, is the Google Reader team under attack for its new social networking features.

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.

Here’s how.

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.

Amazon does yet another thing Microsoft wanted to do (my April Fools turns out to be true)

Newsweek has the scoop. I’m held by NDA until tomorrow.

But, I know that the Sony Reader was an object of Bill Gates’ attention. He wanted to do one of his own. It’s maddening to me that Microsoft hasn’t been able to turn its Tablet PC team into a team that can build a world-class device like this.

All I’ll say until tomorrow is you gotta try this device. It’s not perfect, but for long-form reading it is a wonderful device. I am going to buy one of my own. It’d really be great to have on our trip to Europe for the plane ride next month cause my Mac’s batteries only last two hours each (I have two of them) and the flight is 10 hours.

Oh, and you should go back and read my April Fool’s joke on April 1 of this year. In that joke I predicted a device that almost matches Amazon’s new reader almost word-for-word.

The comments there are HILLARIOUS to read in comparison to today’s news. Here’s some of the funnier ones:

JR writes: “This is so implausible that you should have waited a few hours to post it. That way you could at least claim it as an April Fool’s joke.”

Adrian writes: “Took me a while though, maybe halfway down the post. You should have stopped at “Much easier than going to Borders and picking up a physical copy.” Um, it IS easier to use than going down to Borders and picking up a physical copy.

Mike writes: “Nice story, Robert, but no one takes a product to Half Moon Bay to use it in sunlight.” Um, this device is the first screen I’ve used (Sony Reader uses a similar screen) that works BETTER in sunlight than in low light. And it’s sunny out in Half Moon Bay right now. It’s not ALWAYS foggy here!

Evan writes: “Man, you clearly have no idea how to tell a proper lie.” Well, that’s true cause now it’s a lot closer to reality than a made-up story.

Tom writes: “Not being an Apple fan I did not catch the little clues. But I was about to become one. If Apple is smart they’ll make this product. After all, you’ve created the demand at no cost to them.” My April Fools joke was actually a prediction that Apple would do this. Turned out that Amazon did it first and did a kick-ass job on it.

Dave writes: “I was right with you up until the “tiny balls” part.” Um, you do realize that that’s EXACTLY how the Sony and Amazon Reader’s screen works, right?

Michael writes: “Critique: I prefer a post of this genre to to hew closer to the line of plausability. This one piled the doo doo higher and higher till it collapsed of its own weight.” Heheh, well, now Michael, what do you think? Nearly everything in my April Fools’ joke came true, albeit from Amazon.

polyGeek writes: “Since Amazon almost always screws up and releases product information prematurely I’m sure they will have a purchase page for this April Fools iReader by noon today. :-)” Amazon actually was amazingly able to keep Apple-like secrecy on this project. Yeah, some pictures leaked, but not much else. There’s still some details to come tomorrow too.

Lena writes: “Chris Carfi just told me it was an April Fool’s joke. But, seriously, I want this product. I’m bummed.” Now you can have it!

Anyway, talk to you tomorrow.