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December 29, 2007

Updates from Your Gmail Contacts

One of the reasons why the chat box can no longer be disabled in the new version of Gmail is that it will include some new features: updates from your contacts. Yes, they are the same contacts you barely know, but these updates will help you learn more about them.

Gmail's code suggests that you'll be able to delete the updates you don't like, reply by email or post a comment. It's not very clear what kind of updates you will receive, but they're probably the latest important actions of your contacts from different Google services.

JavaScript code from Gmail

Picasa Web Albums already shows on the homepage a list of recent activities from the people you've subscribed to (not necessarily your contacts):

Google Reader has recently started to display shared items from your Google Talk contacts, a feature that stirred passionate debates.

Google Shared Stuff shows the web pages shared by your Gmail contacts. "A shared stuff page is a collection of all the links that you want to share online. Your shared stuff page is publicly visible, so you can use it you to share links with your friends and others on the web," Google mentions about the obscure service.

orkut, Google's social network, added in September a feature that shows the latest updates from your orkut friends:

The Gmail updates will probably gather all this information, merge it with recent activities from other Google services and display it in a continous stream, similar to Facebook's newsfeed. Deriving a social graph from your address book is not always the best idea if we take into account that Gmail automatically adds people in your list of contacts. Social applications are Google's weakest point, as it didn't manage to create strong communities around any service. Integrating these applications and adding a unified social layer might appear artificial, especially if the users didn't ask for it and they don't have the tools to control the sharing boundaries.


  1. It would be as bad as pulling a Plaxo. I hope they won't screw up Gmail that bad.:-(

  2. STOP being creepy and annoying with your applications.

    You really really screwed up with google reader and that whole loosening of your privacy data standards for the shared feeds.

    I'm about to quit you. While you haven't done anything blatantly evil yet, you're getting reckless with our data, and you are removing control from your users all the time.

    I run a business and my personal life out of google applications and would like to continue. You've really made a huge blunder this month, and you should be very careful not to do it again.

    Just because Facebook or Twitter does something, don't you try to integrate it in too: Make sure its consistent with all the use cases of all your users before doing so. Pre-announce features with all users of each service you're about to make less private so we can prepare for the changes you're going to do to us. More social==Less Private.

    Keep that in mind with every social feature you add. Shame on us if we get burnt then.

    Do you understand now, your new feature has made it ridiculously easy to stalk someone who is a gmail user? Just put them in your contact list, and voila, you can see when they're online. Chat programs should be able to be turned off for a reason. Fix this *now*, or be complicit in every stalking incident it causes, from nosy employers to unrequited "loves".


  3. I really don't understand why people were do upset with the Google Reader thing. I mean, it's called "Shared Stuff." That's plain English people. If you don't want to share it, don't share it. There's a whole separate application for bookmarks or emailing links to specific people or mailing lists.

    I'm looking forward to having an RSS feed that my friends and family can subscribe to. It's not like I'd put anything up there I didn't want my Grandma or friends from high school to see, so who cares if someone I've exchanged three emails with can see it as long as I can block them if I so choose? Do people really have lots of lots of people they know that they want to block?

  4. I never asked for Google to gather and proactively distribute all of my actions across the Google-sphere to all my gmail contacts!? What are they thinking?!

    It seems that, to keep my privacy and integrity and control, I will have to either migrate to a lesser mail provider or exit those other google services I use.

    Facebook Beacon was just the beginning apparently.

    "Deriving a social graph from your address book is not always the best idea if we take into account that Gmail automatically adds people in your list of contacts."

    Absolutely, this is very obvious and should be so to the googlers as well. For me, lots and lots of contacts are business and/or former classmates. Just because they use a gmail address in some manner, that doesn't mean we are great friends.

  5. I think google is getting a little creepy.

    I am involuntarily participating in their social networking. Shared items is ok, because it's an opt-in action, but sharing my history?

    The keeping track of my web activies with my profile is a little to "Un-Anonymous" for me too.

    Is it time to backup my stuff and pull out?

    I thought MS was invading my privacy. Now who do I "trust"?

    Google has a lot of my information in their storage tanks!

  6. Michael Langford wrote:

    "I'm about to quit you. While you haven't done anything blatantly evil yet, you're getting reckless with our data, and you are removing control from your users all the time"

    This expresses pretty much what I am I am thinking as well. Very well put.

    Google are threading on a thin line and this while burning goodwill like never before. Not a promising combination.

  7. "the chat box can no longer be disabled in the new version of Gmail"

    Huh? I have a link called 'Turn Off Chat' right below the line which shows my account usage, clicking which signs me out of chat. You can also collapse the chat box to reclaim space in the sidebar, if you want to, for whatever reason.

    About the Google Reader Issue:
    Stop being paranoid & repeating what others are saying.. The Google Reader Team has an explanation as well

  8. Personally, I'm getting sick of all this "social" stuff. I like Google for staying out of 12 year-olds' fads (that means YOU, MySpace/Facebook). They had a no nonsense approach. Meaning my email is my email - that's all I want it to be.

    So Google - do what you do best and carry on making products for those of us above 13...

  9. integrating jaiku into gmail maybe... how would that be, i wonder?

    It's good google is warned about the privacy issue with the google reader thing. If they screw up gmail, ...

  10. time to look for a new email service

  11. Your private things should continue to be private (e.g.: search history, email), so Google will only show public actions. It's like subscribing to a person in a feed reader and getting updates from all the sites associated with that person. But Google should let you choose the sites you want to include in that list and even add non-Google properties (like your Wordpress blog, your Flickr photos etc.)

  12. Trouble is, with gmail, you have little control over your contacts - Google adds everyone you reply to, and it's easy to forget that you need to weed out the contacts list frequently.

    And 'sharing' could be an accidental click away.

    I have no issue with all these social networking sites - neither have I any wish to join them.

    Google should make this 'opt in', and not assume we all want to play these teen games. Else many of us will feel forced to opt out.

    No responsible organization would dump this as a default onto members who signed up for a very different service, and for very different reasons.

  13. Unsolicited information in my email application is called spam.

    I don't need, nor want, to know what my contacts are "doing".

    And I don't want to spam my contacts with useless "social" information.

    Managing legitimate email messages is difficult enough. Why does Google want to ruin an exceptional email application with irrelevant information?

  14. I think Google should have a clear strategy instead of having bits and pieces everywhere. Maybe they should poll the users and see what they think about it. They should keep it simple, we want to use G-mail for e-mail purposes only, if we want to know what our friends are doing we will go to Facebook.

  15. Is that the cost of 'free ' email? The right to invade and dictate?

  16. These new features might be useful but I thing people have to be given total control over them and they have to be warned in advance.

    It is one thing to have possibility to share your stuff but it is totally different thing to share your stuff with SOME people that you gave the URL of your stuff to and the other day finding yourself proactively streaming this stuff to ALL of your contacts (including your boss that you hate) just because google thought it would be great idea.

  17. Gmail should stay as an e-mail service I think. Please Google, I do not care what my contacts are 'doing', 'thinking', 'wishing' etc. I just want an email so they can write to me if they want to. Please improve Gmail, the email service, but do not make it 'social'. Thank you.

  18. Let's see how it actually plays out before we burn Google at the stake, 'kay?

  19. In my opinion, I do welcome a such service as long as I am able to control it as a user.

    Since I do use Gmail Personally & Professionaly, I would like to see myself creating a Professional Social Network on Google's grounds and not just LinkedIn!

  20. "Let's see how it actually plays out before we burn Google at the stake, 'kay? "

    First, no-one is doing that; it's been a very measured bunch of comments.

    Second, the whole point of commenting, is to try and get the problems sorted BEFORE someone gets hurt. Why wait?

  21. Let's please keep it simple. If I want to socialise on the net I'll go with my kids on facebook etc. I just want the great Google service I signed up for a few years ago

  22. There's also the category of people who use a gmail account as a secondary account -- for signing up for services, subscribing to mailing lists, job hunting, etc.

    Do you really want every potential employer to have that much visibility into your life? I know I don't.

  23. One reader commented -

    "It's not like I'd put anything up there I didn't want my Grandma or friends from high school to see, so who cares if someone I've exchanged... emails with can see it..."

    This is the old argument - "If you have nothing to hide, then what are you worried about?"

    This argument allows us to give up our civil liberties, stop caring about privacy in general, let Microsoft(tm) permit or deny our music choices via Windows(tm) Media Player(tm) 11, let Microsoft(tm) decide whether or not to let us use our computers at all (Windows(tm) Update(tm) and Genuine Advantage(tm)), etc.

    Why lock your doors if you have nothing to hide?

    It's not "fear of being discovered" that we're angry and disappointed about. It's having our trust proven to have been misplaced that upsets us so much.

    There are a hundred different ways to do most anything these days (thanks in part to the Internet, and its rapid, free-flow of information). The fact that *this particular way* of doing *these particular things* has changed in such an unanticipated, defacto, and seemingly-arbitrary way is so upsetting. That these changes engender fear, and the feeling of loss-of-privacy is all the more important to them, and therefore, should be of importance to Google.

    That Google isn't concerned, and doesn't intend to change their tactics on this matter - even in the face of the ensuing fury from it's user base - is arguably most egregious, and perhaps also most telling.

    Google is apparently no longer the "Do No Evil" entity we once new, supported, and even lovingly embraced.

  24. That shared stuff application seems like a bastard step child. It seems to be a way to export and share your browser favorites/bookmarks. But there is no integration with google bookmarks. Why aren't these two projects on the same page? I use google bookmarks all the time, as I operate off of more than one machine. Optional sharing would also be nice here as well.

  25. I don't mind all these socialising of google products, but I do really want a single interface in the google account area where I can manage my contacts and SELECT certain people as (close) friends who may see information about me. (And probably some other types of contacts for people with who I need to chat or email)