A Somewhat More Informed Review of Google Buzz

So, now that I’ve actually used Google Buzz a bit, it seems important to look back on my assumptions I raised before actually trying it out.

The basic assumption I was making is that Google Buzz had to do with email because it is used with Gmail. This was pretty much wildly wrong. The reality is it just takes twitter/facebook and gives you a page for it. That’s it. I’m not saying that it isn’t useful, but it is not what I hoped.

Some nice things about it have been how easy it is to integrate other services. Twitter is my micro-blogging-whatever-you-call-140-characters tool. My blog is for larger ideas and in depth publishing. Delicious and Google reader, in terms of sharing, both are simply link feeds that can be very twitter like or similar to a blog. All these tools to seem to integrate seamlessly with Google Buzz. And by seamlessly, I mean I didn’t have to configure an actual application (facebook) or use OAuth for anything. The benefit is that I get to use the tools I want and people following get to do what they want. Perfect.

That said, what’s the point. Who really cares if there is yet another way to share your status. I think twitter does a good job because it is a constraint. Google Buzz partially fixes that constraint, but that is not a good thing. Take MySpace for example. They were very strict in terms of what sort of data showed up on profiles. You had a UI that essentially had a basic database behind it and it put that information on the page. Where they let you go crazy was with themes, which I believe was a side effect. Now look at Facebook. Those guys don’t let you customize anything. It is still the basic info, only you get status messages. There really isn’t much that has changed and the big difference between the two in my mind is that one let you visually communicate who you are online while one doesn’t. My facebook usage is by no means authoritative, but the fact that people now use facebook instead of myspace suggests that no having an option to customize the look and feel is a good constraint.

Google Buzz on the other hand is only introducing less constraints. This is not a bad thing, but when they don’t offer better ways to keep in touch then it doesn’t matter much. Facebook has the timeline/status update that allows people to keep up with others. It is a feed reader for people. Instead of checking out a person’s profile and seeing their animated gif background, they get updated on their own profile page. People are challenged to post interesting status updates because that is how they say who they are and communicate with others.

My thought is that if Google Buzz was using email for this, then we’d be talking. You could pull in those folks that only use email into the social web. This might be grandpa and grandma or just your friend that doesn’t have any interest in computers. In addition, email could work with non-browser based clients. This is huge as it means phones could use out of the box (ahem like another service we’ve heard of... twitter). Alas, that was not the case.

The one potential innovation is that you have the concept of a Profile that is a little more ubiquitous than before. Facebook is a walled garden. Your Google Profile has more legs. You probably search with Google, check email with Google, read your feed reader with Google and possibly use a large set of other services (Picasa, YouTube, Blogger, etc.). Having a single provider for this is nice. It is also rather worrisome. The other nice idea about email and Google Buzz is that they don’t have to hold all the cards. Anyone can use email and anyone can create an email server. This is nice and good for the web. Everyone using their Google Profile means big brother. Maybe not at first but it doesn’t seem very far fetched that state schools might eventually require students have a Google Profile for working with certain software. The next thing you know Google gets involved in the DMV. After a while you realize that Google TV you bought is telling you to do your exercises in your living room and calling you specifically by your Gmail account name to go all the way to floor on your toe touches. Call me crazy, but it we don’t find a way to really distribute identity and become owners of our virtual property, then we are in some serious trouble.