On December 14th, Google Reader announced a feature that automatically shares your feed items with your friends. Google Reader Gets Social With Friends Shared Items from Danny Sullivan has an excellent write up. Honestly, I think we were both surprised that there was not much of a big deal made about Google automatically sharing your feeds with all your Gmail contacts without asking you if that would be OK.
Danny said, "but after now experiencing it first-hand, it's kind of scary that it isn't more opt-in rather than opt-out." Very true. I am just glad I don't use Gmail and I don't have too many Gmail contacts. Why would my wife care what feeds I am reading, specifically all the search feeds. Plus, why should all my competing bloggers have easy access to all my feeds? Got it? Of course, if you are subscribed to feeds that you might not want to share with others, health blogs, etc, then it may become a sensitive issue for some.
That is exactly what has erupted over Christmas with the aid of a Slashdot post:
"One week ago Google Reader's team decided to begin showing your private data to all your GMail contacts. No need to opt-in, no way to opt-out. Complaints haven't been answered. Some users share their problems, including one family who says they won't be able to enjoy this Christmas because of this 'feature.' Will Google start doing this with all their products? You can check a summary of complaints in my journal here or browse the whole thread in Google Groups."
Felipe Hoffa has a detailed summary of the announcement thread at Google Groups. Now with over 200 messages in the thread, with complaints starting as early as the day they launched the feature, Google has said one thing:
All of us on the Reader team are paying attention and are aware of the feedback from this group. However, we do need to balance all these concerns with keeping the feature useful for those who like it and use it. (There aren't many of those on this thread, granted, but this is only a small subset of the people using this feature.) The incremental changes we've been making this week have been aimed at finding the most reasonable compromise.
Let me reiterate: If you're uncomfortable sharing items, you can unshare everything in a single click. With just a few more clicks, you can move all those items to a new tag, to preserve your organization. After unsharing, any privacy concerns you had about sharing your shared items should be taken care of.
We are aware that friends management is still very basic at this stage. Your Google Talk contact list is taken as an approximation of the set of people you're interested in communicating with, but you can remove people from that list as necessary if you don't wish to see their items. The update I mentioned today was intended to help in that, since various folks have expressed confusion about who's who in their lists.
We do intend to keep iterating and improving this feature, though we'll necessarily slow down a bit over the holidays. Thanks for your patience, and we do hope you'll end up enjoying the sharing functionality of Reader.
Happy Holidays to All,
The all or nothing feature.