This is my perspective on Google Buzz as it exists today, borrowing heavily from other “thought leaders”, whom I admire and respect.
At the beginning of last year in Jan ‘09, Louis Gray, FriendFeed evangelist, shared his ideas on What FriendFeed Needs to Do To Grow and Keep New Users. Among other things, he suggested a “Lite” version for new users, and a better definition of what it is and how people should use it.
The next day, Stowe Boyd responded in his blog post:
…But the average schmoe, wandering around in Friendfeedland, having not perfected either massive social popularity or the followership model will try the service out and quickly leave never to return because there is no ‘it’ to get for them. There is no there there, as Gertrude Stein famously said of Oakland.
Fast-forward to the end of the year. Louis Gray, in Dec ‘09, said Like Convergence, Aggregation Is Better In Theory:
It sounds great. But despite my excitement and evangelism around such tools, for the most part, they have not flourished. It seems that, instead, people want to enjoy the content in its native environment, or keep things simple. I…wonder, does the world need to develop a perfect aggregator, again?
It’s possible that the disappointing answer is no…but I am thinking that “aggregation” is the new “convergence”. It looks great on paper, and some people will carry a Swiss Army Knife with them everywhere, but most won’t.
2010: Enter Google Buzz
Stowe Boyd’s First Look at Google Buzz:
In my Buzz…several extremely well connected folks…(are) buzzing up a storm, with hundreds of folks chiming in…It’s just the experience that I disliked in Friendfeed: A-list pundits holding court with dozens or hundreds of acolytes jumping in…I don’t want to socialize in a world comprised of A-lister dominated chatrooms, wandering from room to room.
Fred Wilson’s Thoughts On Buzz:
Like FriendFeed, Buzz allows me to “pump my data into it”. It is an aggregator as well as a updating service. But that poses a problem in some ways. What does this service want to be?
Goal of Buzz
The goal of Google Buzz was best elucidated by DeWitt Clinton in a buzz post:
The idea is that someday, any host on the web should be able to implement these open protocols and send messages back and forth in real time with users from any network, without any one company in the middle. The web contains the social graph, the protocols are standard web protocols, the messages can contain whatever crazy stuff people think to put in them. Google Buzz will be just another node (a very good node, I hope) among many peers. Users of any two systems should be able to send updates back and forth, federate comments, share photos, send @replies, etc., without needing Google in the middle and without using a Google-specific protocol or format.
In the comments of that post, DeWitt further says:
There are two separate challenges here — a) how do we make the Google Buzz experience the best in the world, and b) how do we make the protocols that power it completely open and transparent and non-Google specific.
Let us look at a) and b).
a) The Buzz Experience: FriendFeed 2.0?
FriendFeed aggregates lifestreams of all your friends and has sophisticated filtering and searching capabilities. The challenges of consuming all your friends’ lifestreams are well described by Mark Krynsky towards the end of his post looking at Lifestreaming in 2009.
The minority who loved FriendFeed is one of the most active in providing feedback for the Buzz team. For example, see this buzz post linking a post on 14 Things that can be improved about Google Buzz that compares Buzz with FriendFeed, which was apparently cross-posted to the Buzz team’s internal lists.
I myself have been a lover of FriendFeed. However, I also remember how FriendFeed failed to attract mainstream users. Does Google want to make the “Buzz experience” appealing only to a small minority of web users like FriendFeed did?
FriendFeeders are the most vocal feedback providers to Google because the evil, walled-garden, closed Facebook bought our darling, and now Google is the knight in shining armor who is rescuing the FriendFeed aggregation model with open standards and APIs. The problem? I do not recall anyone complaining about information overload in Facebook, which is the network mainstream users have adopted, not FriendFeed.
Instead of getting feedback from FriendFeeders on how to “improve” Buzz, Google should look to those who never liked FriendFeed.
My take: Aggregation is not going to organize anyone’s social experience. Google should not emulate FriendFeed if Buzz wants to gain mainstream adoption.
b) It’s the APIs, Stupid!
Will Buzz be disruptive because of open data standards as Marshall Kirkpatrick discussed?
…it may actually intend to be a platform – the central hub for a world of distributed social networking…Buzz users should be able to read, comment on and message to conversations with people who have never seen Buzz in their lives, simply by subscribing to their feeds. There’s huge potential for interoperability here.
In another interesting blog post, Jillesvangurp extrapolated this idea to see how it can impact Facebook:
Open APIs, unrestricted syndication and aggregation of notifications, events, status updates, etc…First thing to catch up will be those little social network sites that almost nobody uses but collectively are used by everybody. Hook them up to buzz, twitter, etc. Result, more detailed event streams popping up outside of Facebook. Eventually people will start hooking up Facebook as well, with or without the help of Facebook. By this time endorsement will seem like a good survival stream for Facebook.
This will no doubt be good for the social web in general. However, is Google ready to give up on the Buzz Experience – as a destination on the web? Google’s revenues come from ads. Do these open data standards and APIs include places for inserting ads?
Social is about People, not Data
One of the things that enthused me about Buzz was Google’s stated goal of organizing the social information on the web — finding relevance in the noise. Google’s approach to achieving relevance is data-driven and algorithmic. I had and continue to have high hopes for Google Social Search and it’s ability to rank relevance of information according to my social circle. But:
Relevance ranking works for information, not people.
From what I’ve seen in Buzz, the approach of aggregation of lifestreams is not working. It didn’t work in FriendFeed either for millions of users who found it complex and overwhelming.
What I observe in mainstream users is not a quest for intelligent auto-filtering and auto-relevance sorting of aggregated terabytes of data, published and shared in real-time across multiple networks, but a place that offers simple ways to keep in touch with their friends, see their photos, videos, comment on them, and chat with each other. Facebook fulfilled this need and is used by 400 million people today.
Conclusion: Keep It Simple, Stupid!
Buzz is not just FriendFeed style aggregation. Add email integration, violating the sanctity of the inbox. Add privacy issues because of integration with the email address book. Add location aware features. Add the complexity of the integration with Google Reader. Add new social search operators. Add more instructions on how to do this and that. Now think of why mainstream users didn’t flock to FriendFeed, which had the most well designed aggregation and search interface that ever existed.
Consider the iPad. The latest concept coming out of Cupertino didn’t add any new “features” to their earlier products. They trimmed the feature-set, keeping it simple, thus making it usable by everyone. Open data standards? 400 million are locked up in a closed network and don’t care. Nor will users of the iPad.
As a product, Google Buzz is clearly engineered, not designed, by nerds at the dance, as Mathew Ingram put it. With its current approach, the same web-savvy minority who uses Gmail is likely to adopt Buzz. Not those who are hooked to Facebook, or continue to use Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail.
For Google Buzz to be successful, Google cannot afford to forget the KISS principle. Without that, there’s no romantic Buzz this Valentine’s Day.