Google Buzz: A user testing fail?

Yesterday i wrote a long piece about Google Buzz over on my own blog, Strange Attractor. The long and the short of it is that Google has released a Twitter-clone that is embedded in Gmail. Various privacy concerns rapidly came to light which resulted in quite a few concerned blog posts from various quarters.

Once alerted to these concerns, Google immediately addressed some of them, although not everyone is convinced that it has gone far enough to correct the problems. Jessica Dolcourt has written a detailed set of instructions for how to fully disable Buzz for those unhappy with its intrusion into their inbox.

On the one hand, I’m not at all surprised that Google could mess this up so badly. Whilst a brilliant company from an engineering standpoint, it has a history of not really understanding people particularly well. When it does attempt social applications, it tends to do them clumsily.

Most of the stuff that was (and is) wrong with Google Buzz is obvious right from the get-go. A small user test with a handful of people would have picked it up. I wonder if Google did any user testing at all with Buzz, or whether they did it with people who work at Google and therefore, dare I say it, probably don’t think the way we do. Had they reached out to wider user community I think they would have rapidly discovered that Buzz made people feel squicky and that privacy was a serious concern.

We do know that Google does testing. They famously “couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better.” The question is, do they do user testing, and do they do it right? The mistakes made by Google Buzz would indicate that good user testing is not used uniformly across the business.