Google Buzz: your digital life thrown into a blender

Finally got Buzz activated on my Google account yesterday and wanted to drop a quick post about it, because I’m seeing all this “Ooooh Google’s coming after Facebook and Twitter!” posts and I think there’s a larger point being missed with all this. The implications of Buzz are farther reaching than just these two services (which encompasses a wide swath of social networking activity already) — Google has already eaten everybody’s lunch. Here are two major points:

  • It’s about the mobile, stupid! Try using Buzz on and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. On the plus side, you’ll notice, because it has your location, it recommends places around you, shows them to you on the “Buzz map”, nibbling on Yelp and Foursquare’s lunches. On the minus side, it does the same thing with people, ie, it shows you “public” conversations of people right around the corner in your neighborhood. This is one of those times where engineering making interaction design decisions turns out not to be such a great idea.

    Engineer: Wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to see what “buzz” is being generated in your vicinity? We can do that since we know all the Gmail users in the area! Sweet! We are SO smart!!!

    Unfortunately, what this “buzz” amounts to is some seriously embarassing (and unwitting) privacy violation:


    I have no idea who Brent is, except now I gather he is somewhere in my zip code and I probably brush by him at the grocery store, and now I know he’s going to have a HOT date night with his friend, Kate, who will be wearing her black stilettos and swilling Hennessy! Gross.

  • Asymmetrical following: yes this is Twitter’s lunch. The difference is it’s a less relevant given that a) the following isn’t voluntary per se since Google takes the liberty of adding people you supposedly send lots of Gmail to and then b) shows you the conversations they are having with other people (most of whom are perfect strangers). This is weird and creepy, far from the interestingness you get from Twitter’s opt-in asymmetrical following model. (I’ve seen some inane, offensive, childish, and incomprehensible bickering that I really didn’t need to see.)

They know where you live, they know where you are right now, they know what you’re talking about, they know what you’re thinking, they know your all dirty little secrets. And if you’re not careful, you’re publishing everything for the world to see, all in the name of “sharing”! Happy Buzzing!

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