I've said it before and I'll say it again - I really like Google Reader.
Before Google Reader came along my preferred method to monitor RSS was through syndicated accounts at LiveJournal. I can't stress enough how useful it is to have Google Reader as brilliant as it is as a web interface and has good as it is as a mobile interface and not have to worry about keeping my RSS reading synchronised.
On the 14th December, 2007, Chrix Finne and Google Reader team announced a snacky shared items feature. In essence those items which you elected to share and which were already publicly available at your shared items page, in an RSS feed (here's mine) and even in blog widgets also became easily viewable to contacts in your Google Talk profile. The feature made it a lot easier to keep tabs on what other people wanted to share.
Now, this sharing feature had a number of advantages over other the established sharing options available at Google Reader. You could opt-out of it or you could opt-out certain contacts whom you didn't wish to share with. Of course, if these contacts had your public profile URL or you had a shared items widget live on your blog then they could still view the items there.
What we've had in recent weeks is a privacy backlash. Yes, some users are worried that people might see items that they've decided to share with the public. They weren't so bothered when any old stranger could visit their blog and look at the shared items widget. No. What's really annoyed these users is that people in their Google Talk contact list might see these items. I'd like to vent at these people. *vent*
It is true to say that Google's liberal with whom's added to your contacts. You only need to exchange a few Gmails with someone and they're automatically added as a contact. This is where the psychology kicks in. Are people in your contacts list your friends? Some people like to think so. Are people in your Google Talk contact list your friends? Yes? No? If they're not your friends and you prefer only your friends to be able to Google Talk you... will you block or remove them from Google Talk? Although it is certainly possible to block people from Google Talk many people are unwilling to do this as they don't want be seen as 'rude' or don't want to burn bridges.
Google's decision to let Google Talk contacts see your shared items in Google Reader, I suspect, throws this psychological quirk into the full glare of the limelight. That, I think, is why people are whining.
I don't have much patience for the whiners. As Garett Rogers points out; these people made their feeds public in the first place. I've more time for those bloggers who saw the linkbait opportunity here and took it.
I don't want Google to scale back on its integration plans, though. I want more of this. I want advanced features for RSS item sharing between contacts. I want to be able to share those RSS items labeled with certain keywords to a certain group of friends and I want other RSS items labeled with other keywords to be shared to another group of contacts. Right now, at bigmouthmedia, we have a pool of shared RSS feeds from Google Reader which are brought into Yahoo Pipes, de-duped, and then shared back into the company. It lets us mark interesting blog posts and news articles for other people in the company to read. Yahoo will be pleased that we use Yahoo Pipes but surely Google could provide this sort of group management feature too?
It's now fashionable to argue against Google. It's a sign of the search engine's success. Honestly, if they had waited until today to try and act against link farms then I would expect an outcry. "We're just trying to make money here with our link farms!" the link farmers would say, "How dare you tell us how to run our sites!".
"I've shared those RSS items with the world - and now you've let people I know look at them! - how dare you Google!" cry the muppets.
Update: After this post the Google Reader team offered some tips on how to manage your shared items. It didn't quite hit the problem on the head. Sure, you can share specific tags but only as an either/or to the standard Shared Items feature and doesn't address the fact that Google Talk contacts get opted into the general list. Nevertheless, it's great that Google can comment so quickly and over the holiday period too.