One Chrome change, endless PR disasters


In the last major release of Google's Chrome browser, the company made a subtle, but drastic change that made scary articles spread like wildfire over the weekend about the company forcing people to sync their history. 

The change was simple, designed to make identity clearer: if you sign into a Google account in the browser, your avatar shows up in the browser interface at the top right to indicate who's signed in. 

What went wrong, however, is this change implied that the simple act of signing into Gmail had turned on synchronization, which sends browser history (and other information) to Google to sync up multiple devices. The reality was that sync is still disabled, and a button must be pressed to turn it on... but it was confusing.

As always, the internet freaked out and the story spiraled out of control quickly with little information about what was going on. Some employees quickly did damage control, with the company's engineering manager for Chrome tweeting that the change was designed to make it clearer when someone else was still logged in on your computer. 

It was a good idea in principle, but if anything, made it more confusing for everyone.

Google didn't officially respond to the angry bloggers at first, but now it's walking the change back slightly in the next version of the browser: an option will be added to disable the feature, and the interface will be redesigned to make it clearer when sync is enabled (or not) when the avatar is clicked.

The firestorm around this matters. Just a decade ago, the browser wars were in full swing and Chrome, the new kid on the block, took the world by storm with its speed, stability and handy features. Today, there's little fresh competition with Chrome controlling almost 60 percent of the market.

That market dominance is a reasonable concern for most internet users: a single change that flipped on sync by default would vacuum up the data of hundreds of millions of users overnight unwittingly. But that hasn't happened, even if the original posts implied it: the interface design was just bad.

Instagram, Instagone... continued

Yesterday, we looked at the departure of both Instagram co-founders, but as the news has sunken in overnight we've learned much more that's worth raising. 

The Wall Street Journal last night published a piece that confirms Facebook's meddling with Instagram prompted the pair's departure, at least in some part:

Instagram’s co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger frequently clashed with Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg over a range of issues, including the extent to which Messrs. Systrom and Krieger could chart their own course, according to people familiar with the relationship. The co-founders also were upset about some product tweaks to the photo-sharing app that seemed designed to promote Facebook growth at Instagram’s expense, some of the people said.

Ben Thompson offers a better point of view about the departure that's worth noting: beating on Mark Zuckerberg is easy, but Instagram is a company, and Facebook began running it like one. 

Only under Facebook were Stories added to Instagram, which delivered explosive user growth, pushed by Zuckerberg and Systrom. Without Facebook, I'd argue that Instagram certainly would have missed the boat, and would still be struggling to monetize today.

Instead, the two co-founders gave over the business and ultimate control of its destiny, to Facebook so they could focus on building great product. Facebook took that, fostered it, and monetized the hell out of it. 

That process was clearly painful, and a big shift for the original team. As with every other acquisition, the part where it's time to get your hands dirty and do business turns out to be frustrating for many product folks.

What's really strange about this story is it's playing out in parallel with that of the WhatsApp founders. As I write this, Forbes published a piece interviewing co-founder, Brian Acton, in which he describes a clause in the deal that allowed them to cash out if monetization was forced on them.

The balance between product and monetization is difficult, but shouldn't be surprising. What's really astounding from where I sit is that these founders sell, then expect to be able to block monetization eventually on their own terms -- something that would be unprecedented in any other industry.

Tab Dump

Xbox will get keyboard and mouse support (if developers bite)
I didn't expect this to ever happen, but it really reflects on the state of the console market right now: it's only competing with the PC.

Google plans big changes to search
20 years after the company was founded, it looks like Search is switching to be more personal than algorithmic. Soon you'll see story formats, better news results and more. I'm waiting for more information before I dig into this, but it's going to define the way forward for the company.

General Motors plans to monitor what people listen to in their cars
Hello, my connected nightmares.