Forum

Google starts online buzz

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Last week, the depths of the Internet birthed a new social-media love child which the Interweb denizens and the falling-out-of-fashion blogosphere met with a collective: “Um, what?”

Google’s Buzz is a Twitter/Flickr/Picasa/Google Reader mash-up that has parasitically taken up residence inside your Gmail account. Yes, it is one more Internet life-stream, pulling in information that you have deposited around the Web in one place for all of your Googly friends to read. And this is not a Google Labs feature that only the most hardcore of geeks will test out — this is something that is being rolled out across the entire Google digisphere. And with Google putting all their weight behind it, it is a service to consider very seriously. The buzz is here: the best thing you never wanted.

Enabling your Gmail account with Buzz is ultra-simple. If you haven’t yet begun your Buzz, the next time you log in to your Gmail account, an intro screen will block you with a welcome to the service. Regardless of which selection you make, either “Sweet! Check out Buzz” or “Nah, go to my inbox,” Buzz is activated. Yes, that’s right: Both options turn on Buzz. That’s what they must mean by “no setup needed.”

Activation is idiot-proof, continuing the simplicity-first Google design aesthetic (if you are willing to call it that) that spans nearly all of their products. Setting up which feeds you want to pull is as easy as clicking an “Add” button. Add Flickr with your Flickr account name; add Twitter with your Twitter account name. Want to load in posts from your blog? Not allowed. Want to load in your Facebook status updates? Not allowed.

Google is taking the control and the privacy settings out of your hands. You might ask: Is privacy a concern on Buzz? It is just pulling in your feeds from other places, already accessible. But all of this content being pulled in is being read by... whom, exactly? In a gesture of kindness, Google Buzz helps you get started by computing your core social network from your Gmail account and automatically having you follow them publicly on Buzz. Ever had an e-mail conversation with someone that you didn’t want the whole world to know you were talking to? Oh well, now they do.

Google is responding quickly. The product launched on Tuesday, and by Thursday they had already officially (via blog) addressed the concerns and rolled out a first set of changes — changes which are a good step, but are only a rudimentary start already two days too late.

More importantly, we should think about our ever-shifting Internet presence. When I now update my “status,” do I do it on Twitter, on Facebook, on Buzz? Do I want to tell my Twitter followers the same things I tell Facebook? Are my accounts protected? Do I want Buzz to know everything I tell everyone? According to Google, there were over 9 million posts on Buzz, but certainly the great majority of Buzz information wasn’t created with Buzz; it was imported.

Tim Maly has begun an effort called Unlink Your Feeds, a “call for sanity” from the new trend of dumping all your content from one site to another and beyond. This is a brilliant effort to solve a serious problem that Buzz is only exaggerating.

Google, in its lack of anything near real time, is trying to jump in to have its own version of Facebook status, its own tweets. The buzz is just one new real-time noise among many. But worse, it currently consists of repetitive content chained across the Internet. This is the future death of current social networks, when all of the content is stale, made for a different group on a different network. Any sort of personal touch is lost and we are left with just echoes across the wires.