While we mock those users, the simple fact is they haven't necessarily failed, something failed them. With all of our talk about the semantic Web and search engine optimization and tailoring search results to the individual user, there are thousands upon thousands of users performing the same simple search and following the same wrong road. If this were a standard traffic sign misdirecting this many people, it would have been pulled down long ago.
People won't use your product the way you want. They'll use it the way that works for them.
Last week's Buzz was around Google's spectacular privacy missteps in the launch of its Twitter killer, but should have been around the other illustration of Google's more fundamental failure: becoming Microsoft.
In 2009, Ballmer famously derided a Microsoft employee for using an iPhone. Encouraging engineers to eat their own dog food is a great way to find pain points and fix them. Discouraging engineers from openly using best-of-breed products the way their users will use them is a great way to stifle both innovation and the understanding of what real users want.
Google's engineers were likely delighted when Buzz automagically preconfigured their Follow networks. Then again, engineers are not known for social skills. Engineering was so far removed from how "real people" would react to seeing their most emailed contacts exposed, they missed how even engineering's most avid disciples – tech bloggers – would react.
For this mistake, Google took a massive hit in public trust. Down the road, Buzz will be held up as an example of why one company should not be allowed to control too much of our information. Google semi-apologized (saying it was "sorry for the concern", not sorry for the feature) and will hopefully consider its non-engineering users' concerns in the future.
While Google can afford this mistake with Buzz, it should worry whether the same lack of connection with everyman puts its core product at risk.
If Google starts getting Search wrong, it is in serious trouble – and the "facebook login" incident suggests Google's getting it very wrong.
A decade ago, I switched to Google because it offered me a search box that led to nothing but results. That's all I wanted, and all it did. This match made in heaven catapulted Google ahead of Excite, Lycos, Altavista, and Inktomi.
While the search box has stayed the same, Google's users have not. Today's Googlers don't know the difference between a URL and a search term, or even between a browser and the Internet. (I talked about these users in an earlier article about the iPad, commenting on how removed bloggers are from "most people".)
By focusing on features such as real time web search or categorized results for tech-savvy users, Google is stranding its mass audience – a mistake its advertising business model absolutely cannot afford. Google needs to cater to the folks who ended up on ReadWriteWeb through their typical use path, making Google work for them and get them where they're trying to go, instead of trying to retrain them to adapt to Google.
Google needs to refine the "I feel lucky" button until it's good enough to be the default, helping the Internet's least savvy users find where they want to be even if they're doing it wrong.