The Promising, Confusing World of Google Buzz

By  |  Friday, February 12, 2010 at 10:20 am

It’s now been 72 hours since Google launched its Google Buzz social-sharing service and started rolling it out to Gmail users. Much of the coverage so far has been grumpy–especially when it comes to the fact that the initial list of people you autofollow on Buzz is based on who you talk with most often in Gmail, and that list is public unless you choose to make it private.

To its credit, Google has responded swiftly to complaints: It’s already tweaked Buzz to make it more obvious what information the service is making public, and to help you crank up the privacy settings.

(Side note: I kinda wish that Google’s blog post hadn’t talked about users who “thought their contacts were being made public without their knowledge (in particular the lists of people they follow, and the people following them).”If Google is making this information public, I don’t see how users can think it’s being done “without your knowledge.” If you think you don’t know something, then…you don’t. I think Google meant something along the lines of “thought their contacts were being made public without any disclosure…”)

Google’s explanation of the post-release changes points out that millions of people are now using Buzz…and maybe that’s part of the issue. Rather than let a sizable pool of testers outside of Google try the service out before opening up the floodgates, it’s gone straight to a full-blown launch. Sounds like the company didn’t expect some of the confusion that’s happening.

Me, I’m finding much to like in Buzz. For instance, it has one of the nicest photo-album viewers I’ve ever seen anywhere:

I’m not going to dump Twitter and Facebook anytime soon, but Buzz is full of potential and I can see it becoming the third major service of this sort. Given Google’s spotty history with social stuff, that’s impressive in itself.

But multiple aspects of Buzz in its current form are frustrating. And quite frequently, the service leaves me just plain confused.

Consider the following points:

* If you’re on a PC or Mac, Buzz is a feature within Gmail and therefore requires that you be a Gmail user to use all its features. But if you’re on a mobile phone, it’s a separate service, not a Gmail feature. Odd! (I assume the chances are 100% that Google will introduce a completely de-Gmailed version, maybe very soon.)

* Even in a desktop browser, the Google Public Profiles that are part of the privacy concerns over Buzz don’t live in Buzz. I understand why, since the Profiles provide personal info that goes beyond Buzz-specific stuff. But it’s still confusing and ungainly–if you’re in Buzz and want to figure out who somebody is, you’ll probably have to click out of Buzz and into his or her Profile…and then back into Buzz.

* I stared at the yellow strip alongside the left-hand side of Buzz posts for 24 hours before I figured out what it was trying to tell me. It’s saying that the posts to its right are new since the last time I checked Buzz. I think.

* I’m really confused by Buzz’s Buzz-in-your-Gmail-inbox feature. When someone comments on one of my posts, I get a thread in my inbox, but it starts with a message that looks like it’s coming from me, listing my own post–the one I’m well aware is there, since I posted it. It’s especially unhelpful when I’m looking at the message in my iPhone’s inbox, since the subject line is the pointless “Buzz from Harry McCracken,” and I have to open the message to see if I care–otherwise, I can’t even tell which post someone has commented on. (In Gmail itself, I at least see a snippet of the post and the names of commenters.

* When I heard that I could pump my Twitter feed into Buzz, I got excited. But it takes hours for Tweets to arrive in Buzz, and Buzz clumps them together so you can’t see all of them without an extra click. I’d much rather that Buzz treated an incoming Tweet exactly the same as it did an item posted in Buzz.

I want to like Buzz. There are numerous things about it that I do like. But it’ll be far easier to like if Google does some serious streamlining of the user interface. Let’s hope that it gets simpler before it gets more complicated. (Google is already talking about all the features it wants to add to the service–an API, Wave integration, etc., etc….)


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