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Dean Whitbread 2013

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Written on February 11, 2010, and categorized as Flip side.
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So Google has launched Buzz. In rush all the early adopters, because here is something new and shiny to play with.

But let’s be self-conscious, aware and critical in our adoption. First – is Buzz any good? Second, what are the wider implications in the social web?


Text longer than 140 characters – though this relies for mobile on smart, connected, WiFi and/or 3G smart phones (still less than 10% of all phones);
Media links which embed and play (like Posterous);
Choice of public or private posts.This last one is a particular boon as you can create messages for only a hand-picked few – private podcast, anyone? and means you can maintain a public / private split without having to run multiple accounts.
Email – integration with Gmail is a stroke of genius. Or…


No lists or groups – minor this, and sure to be corrected, but annoying – why on earth not put it in at the very beginning?
Lots of replication of existing services, especially those which have grown up as part of the “Twitter ecosystem”;
Major Privacy Fail. Google’s first major screw up. Integration with email being core to the model, the fools decided that they would expose your contacts to the world no matter who they were, by default, without making this crystal clear.

Business Insider:

The problem is that – by default – the people you follow and the people that follow you are made public to anyone who looks at your profile.

In other words, before you change any settings in Google Buzz, someone could go into your profile and see the people you email and chat with most.

A Google spokesperson asked us to phrase this claim differently. Like this: “In other words, after you create your profile in Buzz, if you don’t edit any of the default settings, someone could visit your profile and see the people you email and chat with most (provided you didn’t edit this list during profile creation).”

As 1001 Noisy Cameras says,

Google offers a lot of wonderful and practical things but this one crossed the privacy line BIG TIME by making private information public WITHOUT consent. Perhaps this is a sign that no matter how much a company preaches and believes in “do no evil”, having almost everything at the hands of one company is a bad idea regardless.

Personally, I don’t use Gmail as my central email (I’m so old fashioned!) I hardly ever use Google Chat (much prefer Skype) I don’t have secret lovers, and I’m not involved in industrial espionage, so I should be OK today (phew!). But I’m really not OK about Google’s wrong-footedness here, their famed “no evil” philosophy becoming “screw your privacy”. It’s absolutely despicable and they surely knew better.

What is Buzz trying to achieve strategically for Google? Charles Arthur in the Guardian points out that Google’s real rival is Facebook:

During the past year, the proportion of traffic that Facebook sends to US media sites has tripled from around 1.2% to 3.52%, while that sent by Google News has remained roughly static, at around 1.4%, says Heather Hopkins, North America analyst for Hitwise.

The growing power of Facebook also means that publishers which want to demand money from – or alternatively to lock out – Google News because of claims that it “leeches” on their content could do so without fearing a dramatic impact on their reader figures.

With more than 400m users, Facebook forms the newest – and most unexpected – threat to Google, say some analysts. Last weekend the search engine spent $5m on a TV advert during the Superbowl, puzzling many who do not see a threat from rival search engines such as Microsoft’s Bing, which has less than half of its proportion of search queries.

Google needs social. For all its ubiquity, wealth and power, it’s vulnerable in this space where it has significantly failed. Brazil is not enough.

Twitter is social. Not just because it is built on a much-used API, not just because its central premise is simple and accessible, but because for all it’s occasional flakiness, and the numerous complaints about it, Twitter is built as much by its users as for them. Twitter has thousands of third party, independent apps, websites, functions and businesses hanging off it. It is organic and built around what people have actually decided they want to do.

Google Buzz has the potential to rapidly and effectively kill off (and thereby inherit) large swathes of the Twitter ecosystem –  the OneForties, Twitpics, Tweetlongers, Twollows and Twestivals et al of this world – just by being more convenient to use and less flaky. But the consequences could be dire because we’d be opting for a monoculture rather than an evolved ecosystem.

I don’t want my social choice to be effectively limited to two monocultures with a history of privacy abuse – Google and Facebook.

So are we going to be a community of busy buzzing bees, producing lots of Google honey, feeding and protecting our fat queen Google bee in the centre of this almighty hive, or are we actually no more than a plague of locusts, out to eat everything green and already alive in the Twittersphere?

Will Google Buzz adapt to suit our needs, or will we adapt to it, and be assimilated effortlessly by the mighty Googleborg?

Shiny new web ecosystems are brought alive by people. Without busy, energetic, overlapping crowds of real people doing practical or playful things with the tools, they are redundant.

The choice is ours.



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One Comment

  1. Posted 11 February, 2010 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    I like how you think about things before you rush in. Some great points here but like so many others I”m compelled to kick the tires and see. Fortunately like you, I left the covert operations biz shortly after nursery school so I go into it knowing…that I much appreciate this post.

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