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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Google Buzz

In case you're some kind of Luddite and don't yet know what Google Buzz is (in which case, why are you reading this?), it's Google's new venture to crack into the social networking space currently dominated by the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

Its launch a couple of weeks ago has been surrounded by some controversy, as many people were taken by surprise by some of Buzz's features. And they were loud an obnoxious about it. And Google were pretty surprised about that. So was I.

As a long-time Google user, the way Buzz worked was intuitive to me. It made perfect sense, and still does. Although I can see why some people may have been upset about it, for the most part my response has been "These things have been standard in various Google products since forever. There's no point acting all surprised about it now."

Controversy aside, I really enjoy Buzz. The way it so neatly plugs into my pre-existing Google services makes me happy. Although I'm using it enthusiastically, and now consider it my primary social networking tool, I'm not ready to delete my Facebook or Twitter accounts just yet. Here's why.

Mobile Access

I'm a big mobile user, but I don't yet have an Android device (and I'll never be buying an iPhone). As a result, my options for interacting with Buzz are severely limited: I can post and read geo-relevant buzzes via Google Maps for Mobile, I can submit new posts via email, I can read (but not respond to) my friends' comments as the notifications appear in my Gmail inbox and I can share (and comment on) items via Google Reader's mobile interface. (I use the iPhone/Android version of that, not the standard one. My Nokia's browser handles it just fine). Problem is I can't access my full Buzz feed anywhere via mobile.

In contrast, mobile access to Facebook and Twitter are pretty strong. The Facebook mobile site, while not fully featured, at least allows me to interact with my contacts at a basic level. The Twitter mobile site is also adequate, but a 3rd-party app, Gravity, gives me almost as much Twitter power as Hootsuite (my desktop Twitter client of choice).

I assume Google Buzz will be rolling out a more comprehensive mobile interface in the near future. If not, I expect to see some 3rd-party apps to handle it.

Event Planning

Facebook's Events feature is unparalleled in the services I've seen. I use it often. Google Calendar, while a good alternative to Microsoft Outlook (particularly within the context of a Google Apps domain), lacks the social features Facebook Events include. While practical, Google Calendar is pretty cold and business-like, not social. All of that is academic, since Google Calendar doesn't currently interface directly with Buzz anyway.

I hope to see Google Calendar including some more social features, and/or perhaps an "Add to Buzz" button. I expect we'll see something like that eventually... I just hope it's soon.

Groups

When it comes to running the USS Dauntless, we have a strong presence in the social networking space. Our strongest is in Facebook where we have both a Group and a Fan Page. Lately the fan page has seen the most action, since it's hooked up to our Twitter account, making content syndication practically effortless.

Twitter's Lists feature, while nowhere near as useful as Facebook's Groups and Fan Pages, is a start, and we use that too.

Buzz currently doesn't have anything like it. In order to replicate the functionality in Buzz, I'd have to create a new Google account under the Dauntless's name and switch back and forth between it and my own account. Which would be a pain.

I hope to see Buzz introduce some kind of groups feature. Perhaps using a model similar to FriendFeed's (since Buzz is so much like FriendFeed in other ways already). It might even be cool to see some sort of integration with Google Groups (which we also use) along the lines of how Google Wave has done it.

Friends

Over the years I've built up a sizable list of friends in Facebook. While a fair number of them are also linked to me via Google Buzz already (via the auto-following feature borrowed from Google Talk), most of them are not. It would take quite some effort to migrate all my friends across from Facebook to Buzz. Especially since a few of them either don't have Google Accounts (I know, right?) and others have some sort of moral objection to using Buzz because of the privacy controversy.

I'm hoping that this is something I won't have to deal with. If either Buzz, Facebook or some third party developer produces a nice integration tool that effectively puts all my Facebook tools inside Buzz, I'll be perfectly happy. I predict, however, that at some point I'll have to decide whether or not to cut loose those of my friends who refuse to move over.

If you'd like to avoid being one of those, I'd suggest you head over to my Google Profile and follow my Buzz stream.

What are your thoughts on Buzz? Are you planning to leave Facebook and Twitter at some point too?