Google’s made a significant move toward trying to have a Facebook-like news feed and beef up its social networking aspirations by integrating Google Talk / Gmail contacts with Google Reader. I’d seen the discussion earlier, but after now experiencing it first-hand, it’s kind of scary that it isn’t more opt-in rather than opt-out.
When I logged in today, I got this message popping-up within Google Reader:
I was a bit taken aback. Let’s look again at what it tells me:
Your Reader shared items are being made available to your friends from Google Talk. You can see what these friends are sharing; they can see what you are sharing, and that you use Reader.
Really? Without asking me, items are being shared? And my friends are now flowing stuff my way?
Thinking about it more, I shouldn’t be concerned. After all, I have a public feed of shared items here that anyone can access, if they know where to look. Why should these exact same items, being shared with a tiny subset of the entire world that they are already accessible to, freak me out?
I guess it’s because 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. It’s disconcerting.
Don’t get me wrong — it IS kind of cool. For example, here’s an example of how by clicking on the new Friends Shared Items link, I can see a list of items that have been shared only by my Google Talk contacts.
I’ve also got the ability using the new Friends tab in the Google Reader settings area to add or remove people:
Well, sort of. If you check the associated help page, it turns out that to remove someone, you have to remove them as a Gmail/Google Talk contact. Wow. How about some selective control? I might want to have "Reader friends" that are different than my Google Talk friends.
Part of the new change was also encouragement for me to create one of the new Google Profile pages. I did that, but in terms of Google Reader, it doesn’t provide any benefit to my external public feed. It doesn’t show out there.
Internally, I assume my friends see something similar to what I see for Greg Sterling:
Notice that if for some reason I decide I’ve had enough of Greg — say perhaps he begins dominating my Friends Shared Items feed in some Scobleesque way — I have the option to hide him and his items.
Overall, I do like the feature. I just think that if Google is going to start socializing its various applications, I need more granular control over who sees what, in the way that Facebook offers.
Meanwhile, add Google Reader, like Orkut, to the list of Google products that now have a social aspect. Google To Pressure Facebook To "Free" Social Data & Planning Google Earth World? from me back in September looked at how Google was said to be considering ways to socialize its products. At that time, Google Reader had no social feature. Now it does.
Inbox 2.0: Vision And Perhaps Confusion At Google And Yahoo covers more about how the email addresses that Google has — all Google Talk accounts are based on an email address — may be a key way the company might go forward to building out a stronger social network than its existing Orkut.