Google Keep’s reception woes a lesson in community management

Google launched a new product called Keep today, and the tech commentary has been quite negative. What’s interesting about this narrative is how little of it is about the actual product itself. Om Malik’s post is very representative in this regard, with a pun jab in the title. And the responses on Twitter aren’t much better.

The general sentiment is – why should I use Google Keep, when you’ve just shown with Google Reader that you can shut down a product at whim? This may be a valid sentiment to have, and it is also only natural for tech bloggers to seek drama (in the interest of generate page views) – so this should have been something that Google product managers have anticipated in advance. Especially given that the blowback from the Google Reader development has been quite strong (a lot of discussion, petitions, competing products jumping on the wave to draw users etc.) and is still very much ongoing, the Google Keep announcement should have been delayed or tweaked to acknowledge the sentiment over Reader.

Overall, the Google Reader situation and the Google Keep launch timing shows a general passiveness on Google’s end to engage with its user-community in online dialogues. It is very interesting given the overwhelming strategic emphasis on Google+, why aren’t Google’s product teams using Google+ and/or other social media to engage their end-user communities? Is there a forum where Googlers regularly interact with end-users? How often has various Google teams done Reddit AMAs (or something similar – it seems a few Google teams have done AMAs on Reddit the past couple of years)?

These questions may be somewhat unfairly overweighing the importance of these community engagement channels, since Google primarily provides a utility-like service (search, email), and alas, most consumers don’t find it interesting talking with their gas, electric or internet provider. However, Google also maintains the image of a bleeding-edge innovation company (Google Glass, self-driving cars etc.), and in that regard it is crucial that Google effectively engage and manage its community, especially the early adopters and vocal advocates.

In the past Google has been seen as the company that does no evil and could do no wrong. It had a golden brand and it could dependably rely on a host of external advocates to defend itself and push its world-view. That has obviously changed, and Google needs to start showing sensibilities towards its end users. Addressing the ongoing complaint towards Google Reader would be a good place to start – it doesn’t need to change its decision, but it should at least provide more context over how the decision was made and perhaps make some compromises / compensation to appease the community.

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