There’s something wrong with Google Buzz. And it’s the same thing that’s wrong with Google itself. Google is all brains and no heart. All logic and no intuition. Google Buzz should be wonderful. It makes perfect sense. So why does it annoy?
Google Buzz is a connected set of social features that spans multiple services. Buzz brings Twitter-like “tweets” or Facebook-like “status updates” right into Gmail. It enables the sharing of content from photo services and YouTube, and hooks into Google’s “Profiles” service. Buzz is a “layer” in Google Maps. It’s everywhere, and it’s nowhere.
Google Buzz cannot be explained in a single sentence. But once you do explain it, the service sounds pretty darn cool.
The Open and Closed Case Against Google Buzz
Google Buzz is too “open.” Yeah, I said it. But at the same time, it’s not open enough where it really counts. Let me explain.
Google Buzz is “open” from a consumer perspective in terms of using standard applications, such as Picasa, Flickr and YouTube. But it’s “closed” in a developer sense, in its failure to support the Twitter API, for example.
Google should have used open standards to create a closed but extensible social networking site. Instead, they used proprietary standards to create an open set of confusingly scattered social networking services that has no central site or place on the Internet where it’s all brought together.
Google Buzz is also closed in terms of being an option. Google is famous for offering “Labs” features in Gmail that are purely optional for users. But Buzz is being forced down everyone’s throats, like it or not. It can be turned off, but it’s not easy to figure out how.
What Google should have done is turn Profiles into a Facebook clone. Add that status update functionality to Profiles alone, and not Gmail. Support Twitter messages in both directions. And do everything possible to co-opt Facebook content. (Create a Buzz Facebook app, create a tool for exporting stuff from Facebook to Profiles — whatever it takes). Most importantly, however, this Buzzed Profiles service should have been locked inside a walled garden. You sign in, and once you’re in, you’re inside. All your content is inside — posts, videos, pictures and apps. And all the people you don’t know are outside.
One reason people like Facebook is that it’s closed and locked down. Facebook feels like a protected, sheltered space, which is the kind of environment where people feel comfortable opening up to family and friends, safe from the open Internet. And people like Twitter in part because it’s open — it’s famously extensible and has public APIs which Google unwisely chose not to take advantage of.
Google Buzz should have been open in the way that Twitter is open and closed in the way Facebook is closed. Instead, the opposite is true.
Buzz Just Feels Wrong
Google now offers nearly all the important social “stuff” you get in Facebook: Status updates and “wall” posts, photos, video posts, profiles, chat and messages. The difference is that Facebook offers all that in one psychological space. Users feel like they’re inside Facebook, and all their social stuff is right there. Users feel a mental clarity and sense of control when they use Facebook.
With Google Buzz, all the parts are scattered to the wind. Messaging and posts are inside Gmail, but also on Profiles. Pictures are over there in Picasa or Flickr, or maybe even somewhere else. RSS auto-posting is set up over yonder in the terra incognita of the Google Profiles’ “Edit Profiles” page. Buzz is also a “layer” in Maps if you’re using Maps with the right kind of cell phone. Even Google Reader is involved somehow.
Some aspects of Buzz that should be connected are disconnected. Other aspects that should be separate are joined together. For example, pictures and videos should be uploadable and posted directly into Buzz, not from Picasa, Flickr or YouTube. Scattering content makes people feel like their stuff is beyond control, “out there” somewhere, without certainty about who’s viewing it. Uncertainty creates paralysis, which is not going to help Google conquer Facebook.
No, it doesn’t make logical sense. But people aren’t robots. Our preferences are governed by human nature, emotion, anxiety, perception and other illogical influences.
Google is an advertising company. They’re clearly concerned about Twitter and Facebook running away with all the social advertising in the future, and have come up with Buzz as part of their solution.
But Buzz reveals that Google doesn’t fully understand what makes Twitter and Facebook appealing to users.
In a world of hyper-complexity, Twitter offers a respite of simplicity. Messages are short. They file into place in a linear, reverse-chronological order. Users have perfect control over whom they follow. Users love Twitter’s minimalism, linearity and control.
In a world of spam, privacy violations and scattered communications, Facebook offers users a closed, private and relatively secure place to talk about personal things with people they care about, all in one place. Users love Facebook’s one-stop shopping for tools that facilitate interacting with friends and family.
Then along comes Google with Buzz, which offers none of Twitter’s brevity, minimalism, linearity or control, and none of Facebook’s feeling that social interaction takes place in a single, protected space.
Buzz has the right list of features. But it just doesn’t feel right.
Blindness toward the feel of a product reminds me of Microsoft’s blindness toward simplicity. Feel blindness is baked right into Google’s DNA. And that’s fine when they’re building a search engine. But social networking is profoundly personal, and feel is the only thing that matters.
The Gmail Problem
OK, I’ll be the first to say it: Twitter-style micro blogging and e-mail don’t belong together.
That’s why the number-one desire I’ve perceived among Buzz users is to turn off or somehow separate Buzz from Gmail. (The number-two desire is to fully connect it with Twitter.)
After failing with Orkut and failing with Profiles, Google may fail again with Buzz. This would be no big deal, except Buzz may drag Gmail down with it. And that’s the biggest problem with Buzz.
Everybody thinks Google has the Midas Touch, and that everything they do is successful. But the opposite is true. Most of their initiatives fail. Gmail is one of their rare success stories.
Gmail is a superstar in part because of its simplicity, clarity, minimalism and user-controllability. Buzz forces complexity, confusion, bloat and a lack of control on Gmail.
Adding Buzz to Gmail is fantastic for Buzz, but a disaster for Gmail.
Google set out to kill Twitter and Facebook, but may end up wrecking Gmail instead.
(Got Buzz? Follow me here: http://www.google.com/profiles/mike.elgan)