Judgement vs. testing
Fri, Feb 19, 10
John Gruber points to a short piece by Aaron Swartz who calls my earlier post Buzz launch wasn’t flawed, Google’s intentions are “dumb.” Here’s the passage he quotes:
Google is a $170 billion company. It employs thousands of engineers and developers. It tests, tests, tests, and tests more. In fact, its “designers” once unable to pick a shade of blue tested 41 variations of it. It’s ludicrous to think that the Buzz fiasco was simply a result of under-testing.
Swartz dismisses it with:
Yes, Google tests lots of minor details with lots of user data. How do they get this data? From actual users. How do they get actual users? By releasing products. So it seems totally reasonable to imagine them releasing something without heavily testing it; their whole culture is based around testing things in the wild.
I’m really not sure what exactly Swartz finds “dumb,” my claim or Google’s “whole culture” of “testing things in the wild”? Either way, I smell a “Rookie Designer 101″ engagement here.
First, some facts regarding Google:
- Google runs the third largest email operation on the planet.
- Google holds perhaps more personal data of various types than any other NGO in the world.
- Privacy of personal data has been a central issue for Google for the past several years, notably in the U.S., Europe and China.
- Google has repeatedly entered and failed the social networking arena.
- Google Wave, whose enduser functionalities overlap quite a bit with Google Buzz, has not been warmly received.
- Google is a $170 billion company with absolutely no shortage of resources (except strategic designers).
- Google did admit failure and backtracked on Buzz.
So, don’t listen to me. Google itself accepts there was failure. But of what? That remains the question.
First launch, then test and then call it beta?
According to Swartz it’s “totally reasonable” to release products and then test on actual customers. You would do that if you had no taste, no judgement and no experience in design and your customers accepted to be guinea pigs for you.
Exposing what was up to that point users’ private email network by default and then, faced with an angry userbase, suggesting convoluted series of instructions to remedy it is indicative of two equally sad possibilities:
- Google doesn’t have sufficient corporate leadership with taste, judgement and experience to stand up to the expedient Buzz product guys and say, “We’re the ‘Don’t be evil’ company, we don’t violate 175 million users’ trust in us for privacy for anything, period.” (If Google needs lessons on what happens when security/privacy becomes an afterthought in product design, it should look no further than the company it’s begun to methodically emulate in Redmond.)
- That the CEO of Google hasn’t yet apologized for the incident is frightening given Google’s ambitions, considering facts #1, #2 and #3 above. (Even the reclusive Steve Jobs personally apologized for MobileMe’s operational failure, gave rebates and made sure it was back on track.)
I don’t know which one is more disturbing, that every single one of the thousands of people at Google who tested Buzz internally lacked the taste, judgement and experience necessary to know privacy/security should never be opt-out or that if they did, management overrode their judgement for the sake of expediency to piggyback naked on Gmail by default.
You can’t test everything. Neither should you.
If every aspect of design was testable, there’d be no reason to have designers, pattern algorithms would automate it completely. (Perhaps that’s what Google would like.)
When designers do test, they do so because they themselves are not sure what works best in a given context. Testing informs designers, it doesn’t magically produce judgement. If Google needs to be taught in 2010 by testing on actual users without prior consent that the core tenet of a private/secure system design must not require opt-out, then shame on them.
That’s Not How or What You Test, Mr. Swartz, that’s how you expose your greed or incompetence. You be the judge.