There is a saying here in Australia: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”. I’m not sure it it’s common elsewhere, but basically it’s a warning not to discard the good along with the bad.
When Google Buzz was released, people were shocked at the automatic management of contacts. I suspect that people inside Google were quite surprised at this – after all, it was just a logical extension of what they had been doing within Gmail and Gtalk for years.
I also suspect that within Google it isn’t widely known how much people hate this feature. Personally, I’m no privacy freak, but I’m continually annoyed by the fact that I get random people showing up on my GTalk list just because we corresponded about some random open source project 5 years ago or something. I’ve also heard that a lot of Googlers have stopped using public GTalk because too many external people interrupt them. There is a lot I could say about the rudeness of strangers who just want help to diagnose problems etc, but for the moment I’ll just say that software should encourage desired behavior and discourage things you don’t want to happen.
However – I don’t think Google is wrong in thinking that computers could do a better job than humans of managing contacts for them. I’d love the auto-follow-on-buzz (and auto-add-to-GTalk) feature if it did it almost as well as I could do it myself. At the moment I tolerate the feature in GTalk because – while I know I could do better myself – I know from services like Facebook that the continual grouping and pruning of contact lists is a game I don’t have time for.
After the push-back Google got on automatic contact management in Buzz, it would be tempting to just give up on the problem. I don’t think they should do that – instead of pulling away from the problem they should invest in solving it.
Because then maybe I won’t hate my GTalk contact list anymore.