On February 9, Google unleashed their newest product, Google Buzz, Google?s first product aimed at real time social media-ish sharing. Buzz is trying to take on Twitter and Facebook, by leveraging Gmail?s existing user base. Buzz?s main competitive advantage is that it is tied directly to an existing Gmail account, so the start-up time for a new user is virtually zero.
Once Buzz was released, people were instantly getting real-time updates from their contacts right inside their Gmail. Not long after, the wheels started to come off. Google?s default privacy setting was the main issues being found by users. The default privacy setting was set to broadcast your most frequently emailed contacts, TO THE ENTIRE INTERNET. Initially this was meant to be a feature so that your contacts could connect with your other contacts. Google has made some changes since the launch, but if you are using Buzz and would like to tweak your privacy setting you can find instructions here.
So with that out of the way, lets get to the topic of this post. Google Buzz is now the prototypical example for why you HAVE to test your product with external users before going to market. Google is a very diligent company, and they are notorious for the level of testing they do on all aspect of their business. Google Buzz is no different, except Google never testing Buzz with external users. Many Google employees tested Buzz for months prior to launch, and they never encountered any privacy flaws. The general public found these flaws in a matter of hours! This further reinforces the User Experience mantra of ?you are not your user.? Not even a collection of some of the smartest people in the world were able to find all the flaws in their own product, but Gmail users were able to uncover these privacy flaws in a matter of minutes.
Until Buzz, Google has been able to steer clear of other privacy nightmares on the Internet *cough*Facebook*cough* but this Buzz fiasco is a PR nightmare for Google. The worse part is Google could have set this product out in limited beta, like they did for Google Wave, and these privacy issues would have been identified, fixed, and the public launch would have gone swimmingly.
So next time you think that your product will be just fine without doing any user testing before going to market, remember Google Buzz. You?ll thank me.