Monday, March 01, 2010

My Social Media Problem - Google Buzz

Ahh the new kid on the block, Google Buzz.

So much hype and hate, so much promise and demise, at least that is what the tech pundits tell us.  I previously posted some of my thoughts on Google Buzz here as I had been using it for some time inside if Google prior to its public release.

Buzz will continue to evolve, per Google's mantra of release early and often and iterate based on user feedback (as can be seen by the improvements already made here and here).  In my mind Buzz has immense potential, but I want to explore my experience with Buzz in its current state.

To begin, there are two requirements to use Google Buzz.  First you need to have a Gmail account as Buzz is accessed from inside of Gmail.  Secondly you need to create a Google profile like the one I have here.

Once you have a Gmail account and Google profile you can have at it with Buzz.  With Buzz you are able to follow anyone with a Google profile and anyone can follow you.  Buzz does allow you to hide your list of followers and those that are following you if you deem necessary, it also lets you easily follow people who you email with frequently upon set-up.

As of today I am following 130 people and have 133 following me.

I love the ability to post 140 characters+ (one of my growing beefs with Twitter as I use Buzz more often).  You can post a whole article and even embed pictures from that post.  Pop in a link of an article and you get the first few sentences, plus you can pull in images from the link.  From here the reader of a Buzz is able to click a link ("Expand this post") that lets them read the entire article from inside Buzz.  I can't tell you how much I love staying in the Buzz environment and being able to consume entire articles, it is a simple time saver.

Not only can you post entire articles on Buzz with any amount of characters, you can respond to Buzzes at any length you would like.  Similar to Facebook you can also "like" a Buzz.  The no character limit in Buzz overcomes a hurdle I have with Twitter - the ability to engage in deeper conversations, both on a one to one level as well as on a group thread.  Even with a drastically smaller amount of followers and people I am following, I  find I get to have more back and forth conversation, a la Friendfeed (many people have already called out the similarities between Buzz and FF).  The ability to see the comments in Buzz let's you not only respond to the original Buzz itself, but the comments within that Buzz, similar to commenting directly on a blog or article.

On top of threading a Buzz and all of its comments, I have the ability to link to a buzz, email a buzz, view all buzzes from that person, mute the buzz (this means it will no longer show in my thread of buzzes), stop following the user, report abuse (yeah, I can help highlight SPAM! Twitter needs to add this feature asap) and I can reply by Gchat if that individual and I are Gchat friends.  Also, email and it will push your thoughts, notes, article or picture out to Buzz (I love using this on my phone). The ways to share, consume and have a dialog on Buzz are very robust and versatile, I am a big fan of this.

And we haven't even explored mobile yet.

Google Buzz for mobile is a totally different experience than what you see on your desktop.  Here you can Buzz and see Buzzes as you would on the desktop.  Beyond that you are able to see people who are buzzing near you (if you opt in to location sharing).  You are able check-in similar to Foursquare and Gowalla, although I like checking via Foursquare or Gowalla for the time being.  You can take a picture and post it to Buzz.  On top of all this, you can open Google Maps and see all the buzzes around you as well as Buzz from Google maps (you are able to check in, buzz and attach a picture via Maps).  Did you get all that?  I know, it's a lot...

Buzz certainly creates an environment that breeds engagement and conversation.  The feature that best lends itself to this is being able to instantly see your comment directly below the original buzz.  Too often it feels like you @reply in Twitter and disappears into the ether purely because you can't see it sitting on top of the original Tweet/Buzz.

Oh yeah, pictures posted to Buzz look great!

Also, videos play inline!

Google Buzz allows you to pull in content from numerous sites.  I currently have my Blogger account, Twitter account, Gchat status, YouTube account, Picasa, Flickr and Reader pushing content into Buzz.  While there are ways to link other accounts to push into Buzz or to have Buzz push its content out, it isn't available at set-up and something I wont go into.  Google needs to allow for easier linking to other accounts, especially when it comes to pushing content out.  Although the more I use Buzz I see where pushing content out of Buzz can be an issue as the content you Buzz doesn't lend itself to a lot of platforms (think of Twitter's 140 character restriction, or having embedded pictures push to FB - not sure if that is feasible at the moment).

There are multiple areas where Buzz needs improvement and many voices have expressed what they would like to see improved.

I am having a serious issue with duplicity of content, mostly as it pertains to Reader and Buzz.  For instance, I was following Mashable on Buzz as well as on Google Reader.  Due to me following them in Buzz they were also my friend in Reader (you have the ability to hide friends).  I should be able to read in Buzz or Reader and then have that content removed in Buzz or shown as read in my Reader.  As it stands now I see this content twice, both in Buzz and Reader.  I stopped following Mashable on Buzz to alleviate this issue.

The Buzz count showing below my unread emails in Gmail is just too damn addictive and at times makes me feel I am missing something.  I assume Google loves this and this is part of the power of having Buzz inside of Gmail, but it is making my ADD explode!  I would like to only see my Buzz count update when a new Buzz is posted or a Buzz I commented on or liked has a comment added to it. As it stands now any comment on any Buzz adds to my unread Buzz count.

Comments don't stack.  This is a common complaint from many users as one Buzz with a load of comments eats up a ton of the page.  Google needs to stack these comments and allow user to click to expand, similar to what they do with a long Buzz post or linked article.

Outside apps don't push immediately and then they stack up on top of each other.  This is a big issue with tweets pushing out on a lag time.  For instance five of my tweets will all push at once and then stack on top of each other.  This hurts from a real time standpoint as well as visibility of my individual tweets that get pushed to Buzz.

Having to hack /work around to push/pull content into and out of other sites.  You can set up Buzz to pull in apps such as Yelp or Foursquare as well as push content to Twitter, Facebook and other social apps, but this isn't evident to the typical user.  Currently it takes more of a power user to implement this.  I hope Google streamlines this process upon set-up.

As it stands now, following a lot of people is overwhelming, seems like you get the most out of Buzz with a smaller social circle, Twitter is really starting to feel like this as well and sometimes I wish I could start all over with following people.  I found that when I began using Buzz I started following a ton of people and it just got too noisy.  I had to stop follow the Scoble's and Mashable's of the world.  Somehow I am still following Louis Gray who seems to read and share a newspaper worth of articles each day.

I like that Google has taken a different approach to pushing Buzzes to the top, but I am not sure if it is the right way in its form today.  Currently Buzzes that show at the top don't follow the chronological order in which they are posted (Twitter and Facebook show your stream based on time posted), but instead they are based on their "popularity".  Popularity sums up to people liking or commenting on the Buzz, which is then deemed more relevant and thus shown at the top of your Buzz stream.  It appears Google is working to deliver more relevant results in your Buzz feed outside of time posted. As I mentioned in my previous post on Twitter, I want to see these sites get smarter about what they are showing me, and a simple timeline isn't the best answer.  I think Google is taking a stab at figuring out greater relevancy in the social world.  As a result we should (but not just yet) be able to follow those folks who post a ton of content and have Buzz know what content I want to see and what content to bury.  For the time being I would like to see Google give users a choice to follow Buzzes chronologically or via the current popularity system.

Buzz is starting to feel more like the central hub I desire in my social media world, the evolution and feature additions the Buzz team makes are going to determine whether or not I can fully make that move.

Onto the next one, Facebook

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