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Google Exemplifies How Not To Release Product Updates

Google’s redesign of Google Reader and Gmail is leaving its geek users angry and its “normal” users confused; here’s what businesses can learn from Google’s approach (or lack thereof).

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As an early adopter, I sit in front of new software and new apps every day. I look mostly for things that will help the startups and small businesses we coach at Stealthmode.

So of course I manually switched to the new look at Gmail, after playing with the new look for Google Reader. While many tech people complained about the new Google Reader, I found it cleaner and easier to use. I share things mostly on Twitter and Facebook or G+, so unlike many dissatisfied users of Google Reader who were angry when “share” and “share with note” vanished, I found I still had my social options. If you are looking for how to send things to Twitter and Facebook, that’s under “send to.” True, there’s no “shared items” on the new version, but that gave me too much to read anyway and I can get that functionality from Twitter.

Gmail is another story entirely. I have dual screens, and I have two accounts, one for myself on my larger display, and one for ZEDO, an ad network with whom I am currently working, on a smaller screen. ZEDO uses GoogleApps. When I work, I keep Gmail open for myself in Chrome, and and GoogleApps open in Safari for monitoring ZEDO.

There was no indication from Google that there were now three different settings to display the new version of Gmail: Comfortable (for larger displays), Cozy, and Compact. The default view when I switched was “Comfortable” on both screens, and I couldn’t keep the threads together on the smaller screen. I would have loved to know I could have set the smaller one up in “Cozy” or even “Compact.”

Last night I finally discovered, through TWiT, that there’a a little flywheel in the upper right of the Gmail screen that lets you set the displays.

Not to mention the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to delete a message in the new display. Or how to reply. Only when you select a message and look above it do you see the little trash can, and the other options.

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The threading is also new, and although I like it now, it takes a while to get used to.

Like almost everyone else, I’m down with the idea of making all the Google Apps uniform in appearance, creating a universal login, and connecting everything to Google+. It is appealing to think of an online suite similar to what Microsoft has said with office.

But Gmail is used by many people who are not early adopters, are not technical, and have no time to learn software. When they have to make the change, they will be stunned.

Let that be the lesson. If you are going to do product updates and you have long time users who have developed habits around your product, be careful. Consumer brands know this, and so should Google.

[Image: Flickr user Sybren A. Stüvel]

About the author

Francine Hardaway, Ph.D is a serial entrepreneur and seasoned communications strategist. She co-founded Stealthmode Partners, an accelerator and advocate for entrepreneurs in technology and health care, in 1998.

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