TECHNOLOGY A review of Google Buzz

Staying In
A Google Wasp

Google Buzz: Dead already, or just resting?


Fergus Kelly

Google launched its first foray into social networking, Google Buzz, to great fanfare last week. Within minutes it had thousands of users and within hours it had millions. I was a fairly early adopter, a habit I can’t shake, and it certainly looked interesting. But, less than a day on, I was bored and considering opting out. It just isn’t any good. Yet.
Unfortunately for Google, most of the tech world thinks that Buzz just isn’t any good yet either. It has far too many problems. In fact, a lot of people think that it doesn’t even work properly and should not have been launched.
The biggest problem highlighted so far is that it automatically shared your updates and friend list with people in your contacts list and the world. But what if you don’t want people to see what you are saying, who you are saying it to, or you just don’t want to hear from them? Just because you have, for example, your boss’s email address in your contacts, does that mean you want to connect on a social network? One irate user has vowed to remove herself from all of Google’s services – her abusive ex-husband was linked to her on Buzz and she, understandably, didn’t like this.
Google has already changed the way this works (it only took a couple of days of bad press), allowing you to more-easily block users and keeping your friend list private if you want, but the bad smell still lingers.
Buzz does have an option to share publicly or only with specific contacts. This is useful, but does anybody really want to think about this every time they send an update?
Though this raises serious issues about privacy, the biggest problem I see with Buzz is the volume. I want to see the updates from the people I follow, not the hundreds of comments made on that update by people I’m NOT interested in. Having the option would be good, but bombarding me with information I don’t want is the opposite of what I’m looking for. Again, given time, the power of Google's algorithms should make this work better, but it’s painful at the minute. It claims to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff automatically, putting the most interesting stuff at the top of the feed, rather than just using a timeline of updates. I haven’t seen this work in practice.
Buzz also sends you an email alerting you to every update in conversations you are following. I don’t want my inbox to be filled with mail telling me that there’s something that may (or, more often, may not) be of interest in the Buzz item just below my inbox. That’s the point of a social network - it’s NOT in my email.
And, though it links with Twitter (my favourite social network by far), it isn’t friendly at all with Facebook. I assume Facebook’s relationship with Microsoft for ads and Bing (Microsoft’s ever-improving search engine) for search was too much like direct competition. There is also the confirmed intent from Facebook to give its users an @facebook.com email address.
It does have some very nice features though. Buzz excels at showing shared content from YouTube, Flickr, Picasa and more, something not to be sniffed at. It also handles geo-tagging pretty well, allowing you to see what’s being talked about around you. Imagine being at a concert and, using your phone, being able to see what other people in the audience think.
So, I don’t really know what to make of Buzz. I definitely don’t like it at the minute, and I can’t work out why Google rushed it out so early (other than the Facebook-email panic). But, with millions of users now testing it and giving feedback, I can only assume that, given time, Buzz will improve dramatically.
So, I reckon Buzz, unlike Monty Python’s now-infamous Norwegian Blue, is not a dead parrot, it’s probably more of a hibernating wasp.