The latest post to the Official Google Reader Blog concerns the recently launched share-with-your-"friends"-automatically feature and the uproar it's caused among the users. I myself have no real reason to care, since (sadly) nobody I know uses Google Reader, but I agree wholeheartedly that Google's launch of the "feature" was, in its own way, worse than Facebook's Beacon program.
The fact that Google's system assumes that anyone you talk to in Google Talk is a friend is the first part of the brokenness. Add to that the fact that you can't turn it off and have just the feed, with nothing automatic. And add to that the completely useless solutions Google has published to work around the problem.
So, what would be the logical way to give control to the user? How about a Shared Items control icon on the Tags tab of Settings, in the same column as the public/private toggle for the other tags, that allows you to turn off the automatic subscription of your "friends"? How about, since we can hide friends from showing up in our list, a function to block certain friends from seeing your feed automatically (for more-granular, Google Talk "Block" function-like control)? How about both?
What's Google done? Neither. Nothing. They've only just now begun to admit that they might have been wrong about the feature's usefulness. It's already ruined Christmas for someone, according to Garett Rogers' post on ZDNet (there's also a great Lolcat in that post).
Before today's post, Google's responses to the problem have included things like:
December 17: "There's a "clear your shared items" link on the Settings > Friends page if you urgently need to remove the items you've shared in the past."
December 18: "We just added a new option for those of you wishing to rearrange your sharing habits in light of the new features."
December 19: "Additionally, please note that blocking a person in Google Talk doesn't remove them from your Reader friends list. They'll need to be actually deleted for this to happen."
December 21: "This should help with the issue of unrecognized nicknames."
December 21: "Let me reiterate: If you're uncomfortable sharing items, you can unshare everything in a single click."
None of the features or processes that those posts refer to actually solve the underlying problem. Why would I want to clear my shared items? Why should I even have to? Why can't Google go back and hit the Undo button? Sure, I can move things to a new tag, too, but then everyone to whom I've ever sent the Shared Items URL has to get an updated address from me to continue following the items I shared under the protection of an obviously obfuscated address.
And notice that December 19 comment, about blocking people in Google Talk. I have to delete my contacts to keep them from seeing my shared items (if I don't want them to)? Sheesh!
So, to keep this post from getting too long, let me just say that I think Google should rethink this "feature." I won't go through every possible point, but this has been, all in all, a very bad move on Google's part, and I hope that, by January 1 (or at least the first week of January), Google will have switched off the feature, and maybe provided an option to turn it on.
Of course, this might be the least of our worries if what this post at Wise Bread says is true. There are rumors that Google wants to build a "universal activity feed" that will show up in Reader and possibly other services like Gmail. If I want to broadcast things I do on the Internet, there's a wonderful little service written by former Googler Paul Buchheit to do just that (it has privacy controls and you opt-in for each service you want to broadcast). Perhaps George Orwell was right about everything (except who would be doing the watching)...