Recently Google entered the world of social media with their own service called Buzz. Buzz put Google directly in the real-time and social spaces, combined with a strong mobile component. Their approach is tied directly into Gmail on the desktop with a mobile website, and integration into various flavors of Google Maps. It would seem like a no-brainer and a success. Except I stopped using it almost immediately. Here’s why.
Buzz works by starting with your Gmail address book as your core set of followers and this is where they went wrong almost immediately. On launch (whether you declined to use Buzz or not) Google not only created this list of followers for you from your address book, it opened that list of followers up to for the world to see.
While my email address is not particularly private – in fact, it’s listed at the bottom of this page – for many people email is a private thing indeed and not something to be simply be put out there for others to see. I was less concerned with my privacy than I was with the privacy of those on my email lists. While Google has iterated several times to change the default behaviors to no longer create a de-facto list of followers and make them public, that first move caused me to lose a lot of trust in a company whose core business is built on trust.
With Buzz, Google also offers a mobile version with integration into Google Maps via layers and a mobile optimized website for the iPhone and Android. Looking perhaps to tap into the hype of check-in services like FourSquare, one can check into a location with a few clicks. Unlike other services, your location is now broadcast to everyone in the immediate vicinity, not just people you have followed. Again, this was another privacy issue that seemed to have little or no thought put into it before it was released.
Even getting past those issues, Buzz just doesn’t work the way I do. I like the constraint of Twitter and its 140 character limitation. The ability to type in as much text as one desires is not a feature for me, it’s a bug. Even worse is Google’s attempt to prioritize messages. Instead of seeing things in reverse chronological order, Google bumps messages with new responses to the top of the list, even if the respondent isn’t someone you follow. This often makes it impossible to see new messages from people that are actually followed. Worse still, occasionally Google decides something is a “must see” and actually inserts the message into my Inbox. Sorry but unwanted messages showing up in my Inbox is one reason I started using Gmail long ago. The last thing I want is this kind of spam.
Buzz is a strange product. From a company noted to testing, iterating, and keeping products in beta for years, Buzz felt like something rolled out quickly and with little thought as to how users outside the Google-plex might want to engage and interact with it. Using Gmail and attempting to tie my contacts to my social network might have seemed like a good way to jumpstart but, in reality, all it did was turn off a lot of users. While I know many find Buzz useful, my initial experience and Google’s overall model for use have turned me off on the service. Perhaps I’m just being Buzz-kill but for now, I’ll wait for a few more iterations before I try again.