Google stands firm on Reader sharing as users' ire grows

Firestorm over Google Reader another brouhaha over attempts to expand social networking

Google yesterday said it would consider tweaking a new sharing feature of its Reader service, the only concession thus far to a users' revolt that's been building on blogs and message forums for nearly two weeks.

On Dec. 14, Google announced that Reader, its RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed service, would link with contacts from Google Talk, the company's instant messenger, and Gmail, its Web-based e-mail service. Any feed tagged to "Share" in Reader would be visible to any Talk or Gmail contact.

The news brought immediate reaction from some. Danny Sullivan, search analyst and the editor-in-chief of SearchEngineLand.com, for example, said he liked the feature in general, but wasn't happy with how Google implemented it.

"Google Reader never asked if I wanted to be connected with my friends, i.e., whether I wanted to have Google itself start behind-the-scenes making relationships in Google Reader for me with people that previously were restricted to chat," Sullivan said in a post to his blog on Dec. 17. "It's disconcerting."

Others were much harsher in their criticism, including many of those who have posted 270 messages so far to a thread on a Google Reader forum.

"This is by far the worst feature ever added by Google," said a user with the alias "kronicfatigue."

"My faith in Google has taken a huge hit because of this, said someone going by "Brian K" on Dec. 16. A day later, he added: "I'd like to continue using Google Reader, but if this doesn't get fixed I'll have to look elsewhere."

Yesterday, Google responded on the company blog dedicated to Reader. "We're looking at ways to make sharing more granular and flexible," acknowledged Chrix Finne, the Google spokesman who blogs about Reader. Finne then spelled out ways users could share feeds with only some of the Google Talk/Gmail contacts.

"Please keep your feedback coming," Finne concluded.

By the reaction from users, that shouldn't be hard. After another Google employee posted a message about Finne's blog, a user pegged as "Modulo Noh" fired back. "I think I speak for many of the unhappy people who've posted in this thread when I say that this alleviates essentially none of our concerns. But you go ahead and keep thinking that you can somehow convince us that we like this change, instead of actually listening to, you know, what we have clearly and repeatedly said to you."

The firestorm over Google Reader is the second such brouhaha over attempts to expand social networking in the last two months. In November, Facebook launched an advertising system, dubbed Beacon, that users instantly slammed over privacy issues. Earlier this month, Facebook caved to the criticism, and announced users could switch off the system.

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