Why I just don’t get the Buzz.

Google announced yet another new and revolutionary product yesterday and I was able to get my hands on it today and have a play.  It’s called Buzz: a social networking meets micro-status updates meets geo-location aware app that sits right in your inbox (i.e. a Facebook-Twitter-Foursquare killer).  Whilst one of the benefits of the Internet is that it’s so cheap for companies to try out new ideas and models, you have to wonder what happens to Google when all that advertising money starts drying up (which I suspect it might at some point – more on that later).  Of course, some people in the blogosphere are falling over themselves to praise another bold new step into a consolidation of social media but I have to admit that I don’t quite get the hype.  Here’s a couple of reasons why:

Closed network
Buzz is limited to people on Gmail and as much as I love Gmail (because it is an awesome webmail client) it does not represent my social circle in its entirety.  Add to this the rather bizarre asynchronous friend/follower relationship model that they’ve built in by analysing the most popular connections on your email and you have a confusing and closed social network – not the best way to spread virally.  Essentially, since it doesn’t support Facebook connections, to see updates from all of my friends they all need to sign up for new email accounts.  The same charges could have been levelled at Facebook when it started but we’re not at the beginning of the social space now, everyone already has a profile somewhere else.  It seems like this is a power-play by Google in preemption of Facebook’s upcoming webmail client – one which has the potentially to really shake up the email space if they do it well.

No ecosystem
Google have made a wise decision in making sure Buzz is an open platform with an API and that might mean people start to develop some interesting tools with it but at the moment it’s a little sparse.  The reason why Twitter has been so successful can be in large part put down to the surrounding apps and services that enhance the service in every single way the Twitter team itself doesn’t have time to.  At the moment that ecosystem doesn’t yet exist for Buzz and it will take months, even years, before it is providing the same level of functionality.

What is its advantage?
There’s one simple charge I can throw at Google Buzz and that’s that it doesn’t really do any one thing better than anyone else.  I don’t see its key advantage – why should I use Buzz over Twitter or Facebook (because I’m really not sure I have time to add another social network to my already heavy arsenal).  Sometimes aggregators can be an effective and powerful tool but given its other shortcomings it might struggle to build up a critical mass of users much like its obvious inspiration, Friendfeed, did.  For now I’ll ignore the fact that it seems to have zero business model with the assumption that, if Twitter can figure out a way to monetise this type of service, then I’m sure Google can too.

It’s still early days of course and there will be iterations, add-ons and enhancements that may make it a better tool (remember the hype over Google Wave – me included – and how much that is used now).  The fact that it is sitting in my inbox gives Google an immediate advantage (i.e. 176 million instant users) and that will probably mean that I check it occasionally.  I can envision using it for having extended discussions on various topics with selected friends (e.g. taking Twitter conversations a little more in depth or discussing with friends not on Twitter) but it certainly won’t be my social home or information source.

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