January 03, 2005

Google Groups Beta, Group Lists Social Courtesy, or What We Really Don't Want

Over the last few days, I've been getting email from a Google Groups list I have been subscribed on... by someone unknown to me, that I did not agree to or ask to be included in. Dan Gillmor responded to one message yesterday after several came through, asking to be removed, because he didn't know how he got on it, or why, and simply expressed: "geez" in response to the situation. In fact, the group list appears to have started last May, and the first email I have is from August. As of yesterday, when I went to Google Groups to figure out what was going on, I found there were 28 people on the list, though unlike Yahoo groups, once I made a login, I could not find an administrator or a list of participants.

I decided to reply to this Google Groups email list, and the email text I sent is below, explaining what the problems were that I found, stating that I thought it was strange to be put into something without being asked, especially something that, by replying to it, would lead to the public recording of my email address and text, without my agreement or permission in a Usenet list. Not that I care that much because I do blog after all.. but still. This is weird, and not very sociable or considerate. Seems in fact like an excellent way to annoy a bunch of folks.

Another problem is that Google Groups does not explicitly link on the GG page to the support group or to a privacy policy, though apparently there are three ways to get some support.. by emailing support (labs-groups2 @ google.com) -- not intuitive by any stretch, or using the form here: http://groups-beta.google.com/support/bin/request.py or posting a message here: http://groups-beta.google.com/group/google-labs-groups2. None of these three options are linked on the GG pages, nor are they listed at the bottom of the email sent through the groups, but one user replied to every email sent yesterday restating the same three possibilities numerous mind-numbing times to the entire group.

I would suggest that Google Groups limit participation in groups by requiring a confirmation email-reply from list subscribers, and that it add an appropriate links to the bottom of group email lists.. explaining the privacy implications, the public nature of the group mail, and the support email address and de-subscribe information. All this would seem like pretty basic best practices for any group email tools.

Since I sent that reply email back to this group, I've received several email or otherwise heard from people like danah boyd and Chris Alden telling me they are on the list as well, but they don't know how they were put on it, or how to get off, because there is no unsubscribe link. And I've heard from a number of others.. who are not on the list, but who 'heard' about the email sent from Dan, and me.

This is the original letter I sent out yesterday to the list, after Dan's email, for those who want to see it (it's redundant to the above post):

Posted by Mary Hodder at January 3, 2005 10:55 PM | TrackBack

That's bizarre.

After reading this post, out of curiousity I went to the Google Groups beta site, and found that I, too, had been made a member of a mystery group. It's called "Groups 2 Test Group," and has 32 members.

My membership was set to "No email. I will read this group on the web.", which is why I didn't know I was subscribed.

The messages all appear to be test messages, so my sense is that these groups were created by Google staff working on the system and testing its capabilities. But you're right, to do that without asking does seem inappropriate.

Posted by: Liz Lawley at January 4, 2005 08:50 PM