From my perspective, I see opportunity, but it might not be the same opportunity services like Facebook and Twitter (the apparent direct competition) bring to mind.
After a week of experimenting, here are some of my thoughts on the positives, negatives, and unknowns that could make or break Google Buzz as an serious player in the social networking space.
Positive: Instant Collaboration
While Google Wave was touted as a tool for collaboration, its lack of integration (or at least ease of use) with existing Google services rendered it almost useless. Google Buzz could be different.
Even though Google might remove Buzz from Gmail (which probably is a good idea for adoption), I already can see opportunities for collaboration with Google Docs and near instant feedback when sharing blog posts, Twitter updates, etc.
The big challenge is that leveraging private updates really requires organizing Google contacts; which most certainly requires an investment in time. It’s been an easier adoption for me since I use the Motorola Droid and have been (slowly) merging contact information.
I would suspect the incentive to do so would not be the same for others; especially with the rather painful process right now. Being able to quickly organize contacts by tag might be one way to solve this issue.
Positive: Share the Best of Your Social Sites
I like the fact that I can share information from YouTube, Picasso/Flickr, FriendFeed, Twitter, Reader, and other services as well as update directly in Buzz. My feeling is that this can become the additional “content” that brings value to Google Profiiles.
h/t to Brian Wallace for recommending to remove Twitter from FriendFeed. I also removed YouTube and Flickr. Why? Because if you are integrating FriendFeed into Google Buzz and don’t remove duplicate services, you’ll update Google Buzz multiple times with the same information.
I also like that you can delete updates from connected sites as well. For example, since I would like to use my Google Profile as more of a professional landing page, I can go in and delete updates that might that image.
Negative: Bugs in “Connected Sites” Functionality
While having connected sites might be a plus, it is certainly a negative if the functionality does not work. In many cases, I’ve seen a string of updates from people in my network (using Twitter, FriendFeed, etc) appear all at once or in very quick succession; and not inline with the time they made the update in the applicable service.
In the example below, it looks like my updates via connections on Twitter and FriendFeed are delayed. I certainly am not excited about sending what could be dozens of updates to those in my network in one blast.
I think that this functionality will improve over time though; making it a more valuable service once that happens.
Negative: Inability to Publish Across Other Networks
I wonder if social networks like Facebook and Twitter are deliberately blocking (or stalling) Google’s ability to publish Buzz across their networks.
It would seem likely that connectivity via Facebook and Twitter connectivity will be made possible and it will be interesting to see if the adoption of Google Buzz increases as a result. Right now, that lack of capability is certainly a negative.
Negative: Poor Organizational Experience
The biggest issue I have with Buzz is usability related to the update stream of the network. There is a reason Twitter clients are so popular; because the web interface is difficult to manage once your network gets to a certain size.
Possible ways to improve usability within the Buzz stream:
- Creation of a tabbed interface for segmenting the network; possibly through groups or type of updates (new versus continuing conversations versus connected site)
- Provide tagging/easier list-style functionality for identifying those in the network
- Create an easier way to hide/unhide updates (perhaps using something similar to long email trails in Gmail)
Since Google is already responding to criticism and feedback via the Gmail blog, I have no doubt they will address usability soon. If anything, the fact that Google has already issued two updates within the first week of the launch should be considered a positive as well.
Unknown: Mobile Integration
I personally find the mobile interface is a bit more user-friendly than the web. Even though there might be an initial discomfort in acknowledging location via mobile phone, people use this type of service all the time for GPS and the convenience of location-based searches.
What makes it awkward is that people you don’t know could be on Google Buzz in the same location, commenting on the same observations; possibly in your own update stream. Google Buzz Mobile’s “Search Nearby” offers public updates from anyone in close proximity.
At a restaurant this weekend I played casual observer as another Google Buzz user commented (positively) on their food experience at the same place, same time. Fascinating to observe, but potentially unnerving to the unsuspecting user.
So while it is very convenient to get instant feedback on a restaurant or business your thinking of visiting, just remember that other people on Buzz could be doing the same; and reading your conversation as well.
Positive: Potential Opportunity for The Local Business
Even though mobile integration is an unknown for the user, I think there is a tremendous opportunity for local businesses. If trends in smart phone adoption hold true, the convenience in local search and information retrieval while in transit will spur the growth of these services dramatically.
Example: The Cape Cod tourism industry:
Right now is the best time to start investing in social networking applications like Google Buzz, when in the slow season. Local businesses should brainstorm ways they can integrate the review process of Google Buzz (and other online directory services) into their traditional marketing strategy.
Action Item: Hotels, restaurants, and almost anywhere that visitors of Cape Cod and the Islands will likely go should make certain their businesses have a (positive) presence in Google Buzz and learn to respond to negative feedback accordingly.
Unknown: Desire to Connect Your Social Networking Habits
I’ve written about my concerns on the shrinking gap between our personal and professional lives online. I use Gmail for a mix of correspondences and the adoption of Google Buzz through Gmail means family, friends outside work, friends because of work, and colleagues are now intermingled.
For my perspective, I think it is still possible to maintain a balance; but that won’t be the case for every unsuspecting Google Buzz user. Regardless, there is a much more delicate balance when creating an update stream that (hopefully) benefits everyone in the network.
In addition, Google wants (hopes) that you’ll share everything through Google Buzz. I don’t think that makes sense. It’s important to determine how much you really want to share and associate content and social networking sites that reflect the same objectives.
Unknown: Privacy Implications
The biggest hurdle to Google Buzz adoption must be privacy implications. Major technology news services immediately pounced on the privacy issues and I’ve linked to some of the negative reaction below as well.
I feel the integration with Gmail and immediate network start-up was poor at best. Fortunately, there are ways to hide your network and disable Buzz, and as stated before, Google is responding quickly. As long as Google continues to respond to feedback, my sense is many of the privacy concerns will fade, just like they did with ad serving in Gmail.
The fact is that while privacy online would (should) seem to be a big issue, people just are not that interested if the service delivers enough value.
Jeremiah Owyang might have summed it up best in his Web Strategy Matrix in the section, “What They Don’t Want You To Know:”
“The collective already owns you –you just don’t know it yet.“
It’s fair to say that there are at least as many negatives as positives right now with Google Buzz. There are many that do not like how intrusive the launch was and privacy issues will continue to surface.
From my perspective, Google Buzz comes at a perfect time, since I’m exploring more of the ways Google services can help me from a business and organizational perspective. For active Google users, it could be a great “next step” for collaborating and sharing online.
Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts and concerns via the comments below.
More Google Buzz Reactions
- Google Buzz: The Good, Bad, & Ugly Reactions (I seriously did not rip off this title when crafting my own post…)
- Dear Google: A Rant Against Google Buzz
- Top 10 Google Buzz Kills: Privacy, Noise & Clutter
- Buzz is a Game Changer
- First Take: What Google Buzz Means
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