Google Buzz launched a few months ago and caused an outrage due to what I see as poorly thought out privacy options (or the lack thereof). The backlash was pretty impressive and certainly more intense than the whipping Facebook has received at some of its more daring moments but what we saw was the Gmail team rapidly respond to criticism and rolled out a series of updates to address users’ complaints about friend list visibility and disabling the service altogether. Within days we had improved privacy controls and the flames died down a little for the most part (general privacy complaints pop up from time to time like a clichéd argument with a spouse).
Buzz hasn’t received all that much attention from the more mainstream online community since then. Its been relegated to wherever people tend to relegate non-Twitter services and continued to chug along under the power of a growing group of users who loved FriendFeed before the Facebook acquisition (many still use it regularly despite all development having come to a halt for the most part). Recent moves away from Facebook after its most recent attacks on the remnants of Facebook users’ privacy have led to renewed interest in Buzz as a Facebook alternative, and for good reason.
I don’t believe that a post-Facebook social Web should necessarily focus on a single platform. Proposals to shift from Facebook to services like the proposed Diasapora social network seem to be more of a knee-jerk reaction to Facebook’s momentary unpopularity with a statistically insignificant and yet vocal minority of users who have started looking for a similar social hub. Moving all our personal information and content to another walled or semi-walled garden is missing the point. One outcome of the social media revolution in recent years is that the Web itself has become social, partly due to efforts by Facebook and other social networks.
While Facebook is a pretty self-contained social network for most of its users (I don’t think that is an exaggeration – it is the biggest photo sharing and messaging service on the Web), services like FriendFeed and Buzz act as aggregators that you can plug your various content and update streams into to create a sort of virtualized social hub. They are part of a growing trend of decentralised social network. Robert Scoble, one of Buzz’s proponents, interviewed Laurent Eschenauer about an initiative he is involved in called OneSocialWeb. The video doesn’t really deal with Buzz but the ideas behind OneSocialWeb are seeping into Buzz and similar services. Take a look at this video:
Buzz is also tied into your Google profile which is fast becoming a focal point of Google users’ identity on the Web (if they choose to develop and publish their profile, that is). Add a shared Google Reader stream and you have a souped up version of the Facebook wall … in a way.
What makes Buzz really interesting is that it combines the conversational tools we are used to in Facebook and FriendFeed with aggregated content potentially from outside the Google ecosystem. With Buzz, users are less beholden to a single provider and you could potentially have multiple aggregated social hubs on multiple services. The focal point of your social experience shifts away from a specific site and becomes decentralized if you prefer. Or, you could spend all your time on a single platform of your choice.
Buzz also gives users the opportunity to restrict who can see what by taking advantage of contacts groups in Google Contacts. I could, for example, publish a post that is visible only to family members who I have added to a family members contact group in Contacts.
So why is Buzz exciting if it seems to replicate what Facebook does in terms of functionality? Well, for starters and contrary to many opinions, Google appears to take users’ control over their personal information fairly seriously. There have been a few worrying moments but Google has taken far more active steps to give users more information about and control over their personal information and their content. Another reason is that support for Buzz seems to come from Google’s co-founders and that is pretty high level support. Its hardly a guarantee of success but it is an indication of how important Buzz is to Google.
Although a number of people feel Buzz should be a standalone web app or on a separate site, I think combining Buzz with Gmail was a smart move. It introduced this social service to Google sizable Gmail user-base and while that user-base doesn’t quite eclipse Facebook’s, its nothing to sneeze at either.
Buzz’s mobile applications have been a bit slow to roll out to devices other than the iPhone and Android devices but they take Buzz on the road in a big way. Buzz itself is accessible using a modern mobile browser and location awareness makes it easy to contribute to a Buzz overlay on Google Maps pointing out, well, whatever it is that users want to point out to their followers. The Buzz API which was announced at Google I/O now makes it possible for developers to integrate Buzz into their apps and two examples are Seesmic Desktop 2 Preview and TweetDeck. One of the reasons for Twitter’s success is its API and its probably fair to expect that the Buzz API will help create e
ven more points of access for Buzz.
Buzz is worth checking out and spending a little more time with it.