Google isn't afraid of failure. The company loves experimenting and will readily accept failures if they mean it finds success sooner. But if there was any new product for which Google would probably want a 'do over', it would be Buzz.
The Gmail-based social network sparked a user revolt, and a formal complaint has been lodged with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that Google is violating the law and its own user agreements with Buzz. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner in Canada is already looking into Buzz as well.
Many, myself included, have questioned whether Google's portfolio of 'projects' both large and small would eventually cause it to lose focus, but if ever there was a product launch that might lead one to question if Google has experienced its 'Microsoft moment', Google Buzz just might be it.
The reason? Google not only rushed a flawed product into the hands of millions upon millions of users. It botched the product development process.
Buzz's problems start with product design mistakes. The most notable relate to privacy, and Google has been forced to take quick action in an attempt to rectify them. But product design mishaps happen all the time. What is really troublesome about Google's Buzz launch is the fact that the company failed to put the product through the same testing process that many of its other products go through.
Specifically, Google forgot to test Buzz with external users before rolling it out to millions of users in the real world. Not surprisingly, its own employees failed to provide the same breadth and depth of feedback that it certainly would have received from real users. The fact that Google apparently didn't consider that feedback from its engineer-driven culture would inherently be narrower and biased says a lot about how the company is falling victim to the insular thinking that inevitably comes to infect software stalwarts like Microsoft.
In other words, Google didn't bother to think about its users. It decided that it knew best, and launched a product that was clearly out of touch with their needs and expectations. While the exact reason this occurred is yet to be seen, Google's size, culture and growing complacency seem like logical culprits. Google has admitted that it messed up and issued an apology, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Google has recognized that a flub of this magnitude usually isn't a fluke.
The question now is whether Google can reverse course. While Google's rapid response to the negative 'buzz' over Buzz is impressive (to an extent), that hardly addresses the concern that Google may be losing its edge.
Here, Google may face some challenges that Microsoft hasn't. While Google still maintains a considerable amount of 'street cred', it doesn't have the type of user lock-in Microsoft does. Even though Microsoft's reputation has taken more than a few hits (Vista anyone?), its OS dominance ensures that those hits don't significant dent its market share. Consumers can more easily ditch or avoid Google's products, on the other hand, meaning that product flaws may take a more meaningful toll on Google than they have Microsoft.
Photo credit: topgold via Flickr.