Google Buzz doesn’t KISS

This is my perspective on Google Buzz as it exists today, borrowing heavily from other “thought leaders”, whom I admire and respect.


January 2009

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.

December 2009

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.

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  • I've read a number of articles covering Buzz and obviously they are written by very knowledgeable people who follow other knowledgeable people who have a lot of followers. I doubt if these people's experience in Buzz is the same as that of the 400 million “regular” people currently in Facebook.

    A non-blogger, non-tech industry player probably don't follow Scoble, TechCrunch or Louis Gray. Their Buzz stream probably only consists of updates from their close friends who have maybe 2 or 3 online services aggregated (say Twitter, Flickr and YouTube). It's quite possible for them to have normal, sane conversations with their close friends over Buzz without being overwhelmed by the information. What do you think?

  • Excellent collection of posts. Something about the friendfeed model was highly appealing to me, but as you mentioned that changed after the acquisition. New services take a few weeks to shake down. Let's see where Google and users take the tool. It's easy to abandon if usage doesn't match peoples basic needs.

    Loved the title and timing. Happy VDay to you and your wife Mahendra 🙂

  • Andre, I think it is possible. Read Stowe Boyd's “First Look at Google Buzz” I have linked to, where he shows how Buzz can be useful for small group collaboration and communication. I hope it does work that way.

    At present the challenge is that most users will be public buzzers joining the whole crowd. Within their social circle, whoever is the most active in social networks will flood the stream of the rest. The system also makes it a popularity contest with follower numbers.

    Further, the model auto-displays “Friend of Friends” content that Buzz “thinks” you might like. This can get confusing.

    Non-tech savvy users are overwhelmed by the settings and interface. (Why are pictures I upload not going to my Flickr, but to something called “Picasa”? and so on).

    Lastly, it is not only possible, but non-blogger, non-tech users are already having normal, sane conversations with their close friends without being overwhelmed by the information. They're doing this on Facebook. Why will they switch to Gmail and Buzz?

  • Thanks, Mark, and same to you and your fiancé! 🙂

    As you say, it is still early days. I am keeping my fingers crossed and wish Buzz will succeed.

  • Great post collecting the current thoughts on Buzz. I totally agree with your term “sanctity of the inbox”. Personally, I believe the inbox to be a private place, and by association my contact information. Google lost a lot of respect in my mind because of this auto-follow setup. There have been many posts about reasons why this is a bad idea, that you don't necessarily want your most contacted people to follow your every step online. The word here is compartmentalization. I Twitter things that I don't share with my Facebook Friends and vice-versa.

    It's not that this information isn't available out there – you would be a fool to think it isn't in many situations. But to aggregate that information and send it out to your contacts automatically is the biggest mistake here. I send all of my social media 'inputs' into FriendFeed where I have protected my feed. It isn't that I don't want anyone reading it, but I don't want just anyone to be able to collect my information. This includes marketers, data archivers, etc.

    The biggest problem now, and in the future, is how to reduce the noise and to get every single user the best information as far as what matters to them. Buzz doesn't do this, it increases the noise level considerably. If we want to post short, bite sized information tidbits there are a lot of avenues already available for this, and honestly, Google already has a gigantic repository of data on me and I don't like the fact they want even more.

    That being said, Google is one of the few companies out there that *listen* to its users. I give them a lot of credit for that. I'm hoping that in a future incarnation it will be usable according to the parameters I've laid out, but I am not sure what they could do that would make me want to use it. But they have a lot of smart people working on it, so I have no doubt it will make at least some sort of impact, even if it isn't a lasting service.

  • Dave, thank you for reading and for one of the best comments on this post. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say. It's very interesting that you also touch upon the noise factor that my previous post was all about.

    I appreciate your well-thought approach to how you share, and where you share. Kudos!

  • You shared another interesting article about how Buzz may be a protocol and not an actual service, similar to Wave. This is interesting, because I think that the reason Wave will not last is that nobody wants to have a 2nd service to constantly manage and maintain, other than email. With Buzz, they bring it right into your inbox. I would not be surprised if we saw a Buzz/Wave combo in your Gmail box at some point, where you can post items and have a more collaborative approach to sharing items and text. Twitter's weakness is that it is linear and it is hard to follow a conversation, some services have attempted to fix that but no one has hit the nail on the head yet.

  • I think this is the short term win that Google can get with Buzz, even with power users. The medium highlights the potential of Wave for me; it give me a quick way to reach out to a list of people on one subject and to start a conversation. One I can circle back and check. Throw in some file sharing and I can't see a reason to use things like Basecamp or other collaborative project suites. Beef up GContacts and I'll even put my customer/leads/CRM info in there. Minor tweaks, all of them.

    I use nearly every sharing tool out there, and as such I will be the top reason that most of the people in my Contacts list who just found Buzz under their Inbox link to be completely overwhelming; every day since Buzz was announced I've been told to quit Buzzing so much and received an email to the tune of 'what's this buzz thing?'. These are messages from my best friends and family.

    Aggregation is not the answer to mass adoption. Simplicity is. Buzz needs to be reframed in the context of short chain communications; close friends sharing…a family keeping in touch. Providing another place for thought leaders to dominate the landscape doesn't do anything for the vast majority, and when Facebook offers Simple Users the ability to replicate gmail inside of the place where they've built their social web, Buzz may be just the thing that pushes them out the door completely.

  • I don't agree with this last statement, but it's probably a more personal riff. Google has, in my opinion, a spotty history of listening to users. They are pretty self-reliant when it comes to their product decisions and they certainly don't provide much in the way of customer service. Maybe your experience is different, but mine has been one of a company that relies too heavily on their own koolaid.

  • DShan,

    In case of Buzz, there are two reasons why Google has been very responsive to feedback: one is because of privacy, which has always been an important issue with Google; second is their poor track record in the social space, which puts them on the defensive.

  • I think that Wave should be re-deployed as an opt-in feature within the existing G-mail. I don't think the Gmail is the right place for Buzz. I think it should be an opt-in feature of Google Reader. I can't get clarity around this but it just feels like a better fit conceptually.

  • Buzz doesn't fit in Reader either – imagine once other services are integrated. I don't want people's picks in my Reader!

    You are not the only one who can't get clarity on Wave/Buzz, Khürt. 🙂 I don't think even Google has clarity – they're testing the waters right now.

  • Fair enough. Unfortunately that the space I care the least about their
    customer service, but you have a valid point; getting into the social space
    means you have to be social.

  • Google's privacy track record is pristine – that's why everyone is coming down hard on them. If you look at FB's it's the total opposite, stolen ideas etc etc. I think eventually $Goog will get the social thing right..

  • This a good post. It combines alot of what i have been feeling. In it's infancy Buzz is interesting. I love Friendfeed, and I like how Freindfeed has mellowed out over time. It hs a subtle charming quality now that A-List early adopters have mostly moved on. I think over time Buzz will also provide a more charming appeal once the new car smell has left.

  • Thanks, Robert – I hope so too!

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