Is history repeating itself with Google Buzz? I hope not. I became a fan of a service called Jaiku about two years ago and wrote about how it was so much better than Twitter from a feature perspective. It was designed for meaningful conversations, unlike Twitter which wasn’t (and still isn’t) really designed for conversations. Jaiku even did location long before Foursquare, Gowalla and other services were doing much at all. In many ways, Jaiku even did a couple things FriendFeed is known for before FriendFeed did it. Alas none of this forward thinking on the Jaiku team’s part made the service the preferred service and it pretty much chugged along until Google bought it and integrated its people into its own projects.
I remember having spirited conversations with a couple people about their perception that Twitter was superior to Jaiku at the time because everyone was on Twitter. This, more than anything, seems to be the key to Twitter’s success despite repeated instability and service failures. There is no other explanation really. There are other services which do similar work and are more stable and yet Twitter seems to remain the preferred service of its kind. What I find really interesting is that despite Twitter being preferred because of its simplicity (140 character messages combined with @-replies and direct messages as the only real complexity), Twitter has become more and more complex over the last few years with the addition of lists (something FriendFeed did far better), something resembling a search engine, meta data and, more recently, location awareness for tweets. Users have carried on merrily, celebrating Twitter’s new features, forgetting that they once objected strongly to anything that messed with the original, simple formula. It reminds me of the hype over Apple’s “innovations” in the iPhone despite the fact that other devices have had those innovations for years. You would think that the Twitter team would have spent all these years since its launch and triumph over Jaiku, StatusNet (previously known as Laconica) and FriendFeed, it would have developed Twitter into a more robust and stable service. Sadly not. The last day or so has seen the biggest Twitter #failwhale in a long time with failed updates crashing the service almost completely.
Granted a couple hours without Twitter are hardly the end of the world (well, it is to some), but I find myself asking again and again why Twitter remains so popular or even relevant with its lagging feature development? I once said that FriendFeed was a far superior option and it probably would still be if Facebook hadn’t bought it and effectively ended its development as a distinct service. I see Google’s Buzz as FriendFeed’s successor of sorts and I’ve written about why I think people, you, should be spending more time on Google Buzz recently. I am not alone in this belief. Matt Cutts (a Google employee for sure but I believe he is balanced in his views) and Robert Scoble have once again written about why Buzz deserves much more attention from users (Scoble hinted that upcoming features could well bring Buzz that much closer to FriendFeed parity or even help it surpass FriendFeed).
There are pros and cons when it comes to Buzz (Scoble lists a number of each in his post) but the big question is whether Buzz will suffer from the Jaiku Effect and simply not catch on despite its arguable superiority to Twitter? Buzz is a flexible and powerful service that dispenses with many of Twitter’s limitations (the character limit, for one) and introduces a degree of interaction that is simply not possible with Twitter. I can even see Buzz as a possible Facebook alternative in some respects although I think Facebook has far too much momentum at this stage to be at risk from Buzz. Buzz also feels like a pretty young service and Cutts made a good point in his post which I agree with and which hopefully bodes well for Buzz:
I’ll repeat what I said last week. Do you remember when you first started on Twitter, and you didn’t know quite what to do with it? Who do I follow? What do I say? I didn’t really “get” Twitter for months. But as I found interesting people to follow and got the hang of it, I began to see the appeal of Twitter and started using it more often. I’ve noticed Buzz is tracing that same trajectory for me: an initial burst, followed by a bit of a slump, and then a steady climb as I found people that make Buzz interesting.
That said, I was sure that FriendFeed would attract a substantial following and trump Twitter. Maybe it would have had Facebook not bought and scuttled it. Perhaps all it needed was some more time and exposure to more users and perhaps that is all Buzz needs to reach critical mass. I certainly hope so. I’d like to think that services attract the most followers because they are superior services but the trend seems to be that services attract more followers because that is where the herd has migrated, regardless of the availability of even better feeding grounds and water elsewhere. Buzz has surpassed Twitter to a large extent, just in terms of functionality, and if Google can turn the tables on its past failures to develop compelling social services, Buzz should become the next Facebook, never-mind a Twitter successor. In the meantime, you are welcome to join me on Buzz and follow me through my Google profile. Come on, it will be fun, stimulating and may even do the dishes too!