In response to the horrified rabble over how contacts are shared in its Google Reader application, Google has taken a step back from designating anyone who exchanges messages on Google Talk as friends and sharing that content with Reader users.
The issue came to light last December when Google linked up Reader with its Google Talk chat app to make shared items visible to friends from Google Talk. When a user logged into Reader, friends could see their shared items in the Reader left-hand navigation area under "Friends' shared items."
This didn't sit well with Google Reader users, who are not as un-Web savvy as Google treated them and crave more granular privacy control. Now, eight months later, Google has done a turnabout, allowing users to manage a Friends list within Reader, separate from Gmail chat contacts.
Google wrote in a blog post that users can now choose to continue sharing with all of their chat buddies or customize their Friends list to decide who may read what.
People that users add to the Friends list will be able to automatically see their shared items in Reader. Moreover, when someone decides to share with you, you will get a notification and the ability to preview and subscribe to their shared items.
I don't use Google Reader, but I sure understand the inability to control what my friends see. That's what sparkles about Facebook; the ability to control who may see what.
There are (or shouldn't be) any surprises over what is shared. Google underestimated its Reader users when it took the sharing liberty last winter.
Indeed, not everyone on Google Talk is a "friend" in the most intimate sense. I have several people on instant messaging who are business contacts. I would not want them getting an insight into my personal life through a service such as Reader.
Google's granular control move for Reader is goodness, and not to pile on to the issue ReadWriteWeb's fine new contributing writer Frederic Lardinois broached, but what took Google so long?
It seems to me that if so many people took issue with it, then Google should have acted sooner. Experimental feature or not, eight months is too long to let your users twist in the wind with no recourse other than to stop using Reader for fear of sharing content with the wrong people.
The "experiment" highlights that while Google may have mastered the search engine market, it's sometimes a little too machine-like in its approach to social networking, which you can't master with an algorithm.
You need people to understand how consumers think.