Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Google Buzz: A Social Step Too Far - Reviews by PC Magazine

Google Buzz: A Social Step Too Far

02.16.10

Lance Ulanoff

It's official: I'm not that into Google Buzz and its intrusion into Gmail, my personal e-mail world.

by Lance Ulanoff

Buzz up!on Yahoo!

Google's decision to further refine Google Buzz's privacy settings is a good move. I started using the social networking

platform last week, and I have to admit that for the first time in my online social life, I feel a bit overwhelmed.

What I originally saw as a savvy move by Google, putting Buzz right inside Gmail, turned into something of a nightmare for many users%u2014even me. In the original version, once you were in Google Buzz, your contacts, public Google Reader accounts, and public Picasa photos became part of the shared Buzz network. The people you conversed with the most over e-mail and chat were, automatically, the ones you were following.

In one fell swoop, Google blurred the line between public and private in such a way that no one seemed to know which way was up%u2014or what was private versus personal. It's created a fair amount of ambivalence toward Google's latest creation. In an informal poll where I asked what people thought of Buzz, the majority%u201443 percent%u2014were undecided. Of the rest, 23 percent hate it, 14 percent love it, 19 percent haven't tried it, and 1 percent has never heard of it. For my part, this Buzz experience has forced me to rethink my social strategy, and it's something I'm still working out. Apparently, I'm not alone.

Recently, a good friend of mine pulled out of social networking entirely. He is, for all intents and purposes, off the social grid. This act caught me by surprise, and I didn't know about it right away because, to be honest, he hadn't tweeted about it, updated his Facebook

account, or put it in Friendfeed. He'd been gone from the social stage long before Google Buzz even existed.

All of his accounts are dead and this makes me kind of sad. I have no idea what my friend is up to. I have to e-mail him and wait for a response in order to get an update. On the other hand, in light of Google Buzz, his move seems almost prescient. Buzz, which blends a rather personal platform%u2014e-mail%u2014with a public one%u2014social networking%u2014surely would have been a step too far for my now social-net-phobic friend.

It's almost a step too far for me.

Gmail is my favorite online e-mail system. In fact, it's my primary personal e-mail. Now it has this public face to it. Obviously, I did not have to join Buzz, though not to do so would have been ridiculous for the Editor in Chief of PCMag.com. Part of my job description is, essentially, to try new tech stuff and write about it. Even as I try new things, I've done my best to keep Gmail sacrosanct. To tell the truth, I work pretty hard at keeping my public and private lives separate. There are exceptions, but those who follow me on Twitter know that 90 percent of my Tweets relate to the work I do. Facebook is more of a personal space for me. That's one of the reasons I usually reject "reader" connection requests on the service. In Gmail, all of my contacts were, until last week, private ones. Now, there's an unnerving mix of friends, family, and professional contacts.

One of the things I like least about Google Buzz is the notifications within my Gmail inbox. I'd rather everything Buzz-related stayed inside the Buzz tab. Even inside the Buzz tab, the ever-present reminder that there are people from my personal contacts for me to "follow" is bothersome. I don't want or need to be pushed. In Twitter, there's the Follow Friday tradition, where Twitter members suggest people that you, me, and everyone else should follow. It's easy to ignore those Tweets as they roll by.

I know that Google has changed the Buzz followers from automatic follows to "suggested" follows. That's a step inthe right direction. But I don't think this marriage of e-mail and social interaction is working or can really survive.

Things we do in the digital world are typically replacements for what we did in the analog space. News Web sites replaces newspapers, e-mail replaces letter writing, instant messaging replaces phone calls, and social networks replace clubs. Clearly, today's social nets are far more amorphous than, say, a quilting or rock club. Often times, you're simply a member of the club called "The Club." Still, you decide to join and participate in the club rituals: daily greetings (i.e. "hello fellow tweeters!") and weekly events (i.e. Follow Fridays). Those that break the rules, by over-sharing or being too aggressive or unpleasant, are shunned (blocked, unfollowed) or even removed from the club.

What is the analog for social network combined with e-mail? Google Buzz, as it currently exists, doesn't aptly reflect any social interaction metaphor I know of. Having my (and others') social updates inside my once totally personal e-mail inbox is like having junk mail stuffed inside the same envelope as your personal mail.

This lack of separation between personal and private will not serve Google Buzz well and could result in more people making the choice my friend did and pulling themselves off the social grid. That won't be good for anyone.

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More Lance Ulanoff:
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An excellent article in my opinion.

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