The Buzz on Google Buzz

This past week Google unveiled its own social network: Google Buzz. This isn’t Google’s first attempt at being social, Google Orkut, Open Social, and Latitude, are previously released applications designed to support online social engagement, but none have garnered much attention. Google Buzz, on the other hand, has made quite a splash in its first week, and is looking like a contender for social network giant Facebook.

Google Buzz works hand in hand with Gmail. Like Twitter tweets, and Facebook status updates, users post comments and share information, links, photos, and videos throughout the day. Posts can be directed at a specific person, groups of people, or the general public. Like Facebook, Google Buzz provides a user profile page to tell the world all about who you are and what you like. Like Twitter, Buzz users have followers and follow other users. Posts from those that you follow stream into your Buzz window. Posts that are directed specifically at you, and responses to your own posts are delivered to your gmail account so that you are aware of their arrival. Buzz also includes posts that it thinks you may be interested in from users that you are not following. Over time, Buzz gets to know your interests and provides more relevant information.

Buzz is also accessible from smart phones, where it can use GPS information to let your friends know your current location. As with anything posted to buzz, you control who can access it.

Google Buzz has been fairly successful in its first few days of operation with millions of people trying it out, posting more than 9 million comments, and hundreds of posts per minute from mobile devices. However, many people were quick to point out some serious privacy issues with Buzz. Fortunately, Google was quick to react to those concerns and implement improvements. Buzz no longer forces all gmail users to use it – now there’s the ability to turn off Buzz. Buzz no longer automatically assigns friends to follow based on your gmail buddy list, but instead it makes suggestions. Buzz no longer automatically shares your public Picassa photos and Google Reader articles with your friends. Buzz no longer provides all of your friend’s email addresses to the general public.

With these corrections, and Google’s apparent willingness to address its user’s concerns, Google Buzz has some promise. There are still a few issues that may hold it back. First, Buzz is integrated with Gmail, so people that don’t care for Gmail, probably won’t want to use Buzz. Secondly, while Buzz can connect with Twitter feeds, it cannot connect with Facebook, so users will have to decide to use either Facebook or Buzz, it’s doubtful that anyone would want to use both. And finally, Buzz still requires users to take extra steps to keep their data private. By default, everything you share on Buzz become public, with the exception of GPS location data. The “opt out” approach is one that shows little respect for user’s privacy, and a lot of interest in advertising dollars.

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