28 Comments

Summary:

There have been plenty of complaints about privacy and other concerns with Google Buzz, but the biggest problem with it is that it’s just so darn hard to use, and so convoluted in its design. Even quitting Buzz is way harder than it needs to be.

There’s been a lot of talk about privacy concerns when it comes to Google’s Buzz, with both the Canadian Privacy Commissioner’s office and the Federal Trade Commission looking into the service, people complaining about their contacts being exposed without their knowledge, etc. For me, that stuff isn’t really an issue — rightly or wrongly, I’m pretty much an open book on the Internet when it comes to social networks. As far as I’m concerned, the biggest issue with Buzz is just this: I’m not sure it works.

I’ve tried to like it and find ways to use it, I really have. And I’m not saying I’m giving up on it completely. But I’m skeptical about whether Buzz really fills a critical need in my life, and whether it adds enough value to keep around or devote more time to it. Could this be a result of social networking fatigue? Possibly. But to be honest, Buzz just seems too convoluted and cumbersome in so many ways, the user interface too chaotic and hard to filter, the settings difficult to understand and configure, and the potential use case too hard to figure out.

I’ve been trying to use it as an aggregator for other things — Twitter, Facebook, etc. — but that doesn’t seem all that useful. I check it from time to time because the “unread” number keeps nagging me, but then when I get into it there are just tons of comments on posts by Pete Cashmore and Matt Cutts and Robert Scoble (who I eventually had to unfollow — sorry, Robert). And each time there’s a new comment, Google puts the post back at the top. I thought Google’s mission was to help me make sense of all the information clutter out there, but Buzz really isn’t helping. And it’s not just me: Jyri Engestrom, who co-founded Jaiku and helped create Buzz, has set up a Google Moderator page for suggestions about “How To Fix Buzz,” and thousands of people have voted already.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s great to read through a discussion with Matt Cutts about domain registrars because his wife is looking to buy a domain name. And now and then I come across something interesting that is worth reading or commenting on, like a conversation started by Google engineer DeWitt Clinton or David Cohn. But there’s still just a ton of noise, and I can’t figure out whether that’s my fault or Google’s. Is it the way I’m adding people, or the way Google is filtering (or not)?

A lot of people make the same complaints about Twitter — a high noise ratio, a lack of interesting posts, difficulty figuring out who to follow, etc. But I’ve managed to get Twitter to the point where it works for me, where I’m following a combination of people who provide interesting links and commentary on a fairly consistent basis. Could I get to the point where Buzz works like that, too? I thought it would be fairly simple, since I could just add people I also follow on Twitter through Gmail and the Buzz interface, but it’s still not there yet, and I’m not convinced it will be any time soon.

I’ve tried using Buzz on my phone as well, and as a standalone app (on a Mac, you can turn any URL into a standalone app using Fluid) and that gets closer to being useful. The geolocation for the mobile version — which has suffered its own problems, with a bug that could allow your account to be hacked — is an interesting feature, and I could see how viewing Buzz posts related to a venue would be useful, in the same way “tips” on Foursquare can be. And it’s easier to browse through a standalone desktop app (Google is apparently thinking about offering a standalone version at some point), but then I always get the feeling I’m missing something, due to Google’s obscure sorting algorithms.

In many ways, as David Pogue points out in a recent column, Buzz suffers from a bewildering oversupply of features. It’s a little like its lesser-known cousin, Google Wave — it’s chaotic, hard to filter, and more or less overwhelming. For example, there’s no easy way to collapse comments on posts in Buzz, to get to the new and/or good stuff — but then some conversations collapse by themselves, and I’m not sure why. Other conversations disappear altogether into a window-shade style format (although they can be expanded), and I don’t know why that happens, either. Google’s algorithms at work again, no doubt.

As for disconnecting from Buzz, give this a read and see if you can figure out how it works, because it isn’t straightforward or intuitive by any stretch of the imagination. So I guess I’m stuck with it, whether I use it or not.

Related content from GigaOm Pro: Google’s Social Scheme Hinges on Fears Not Fortunes

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Doug88888

  1. I put together a tool with a friend that can aid in filtering social streams to your interests. I linked to it in my comment URL, would love feedback if you perceive potential for greater utility, we have focused primarily on personalization of information streams, and user control over that process.

    Warning, design not too pretty yet :)

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  2. I hope Google reads this. I’ve been making these comments one-by-one and I’m glad to see someone’s succinctly summarized EXACTLY how I feel. I’m unfollowing and now not even starting to follow “big names” because all I see is their posts at the top and I miss posts from my actual friends because Google sets them as a low priority due to lack of interaction. I actually care what my “real” friends have to say more than Joe Blow who has told @Jack he hopes he gets some sleep in reply to a fed Twitter post 5 days ago.

    FYI, Redux has the same “bump” features and it gets old to log in after being gone for several days to see the exact same items at the top of my stream.

    If anyone can work this out, it will be Google, but Wave and Buzz are a cluttered cluster and I don’t have time to try to figure out how to make it useful to me.

    Great article Matthew. Thanks.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Donna — glad you liked the piece.

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  3. Wave, Buzz …can not believe that the Gpeople could not have figured all this out sans daily retooling, legal actions, and annoying users.
    Perhaps they knew exactly what they were doing

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    1. Exactly. Buzz is a big pile of dog shit. I hope Google reads that.

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  4. Same impression here, Mat.

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  5. I’ve tried to work with Buzz too — you and others patience with figuring it out is admirable. However, it’s a total non-starter for me and the reason is simple:

    “there’s no easy way to collapse comments on posts in Buzz…”

    Collapsing comments seems like such an easy fix. This just totally and completely kills the service for me, period.

    As for feature overload – Google would do well to read and absorb Paul Buchheit’s post: If your product is Great, it doesn’t need to be Good. http://bit.ly/a3ou2o

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  6. I’m right there with you, Mathew. I de-buzzed my Gmail just yesterday because there’s already enough noise in my Inbox. The problem with all of these social networks is that they want to become destinations and not vehicles. Ideally, I want multiple vehicles that bring all the chatter into one destination so I can actually enjoy the journey. Maybe I’m in the minority on that, but I ultimately don’t want to pick and choose which social networking vehicle I take as long as it gets me where I want to go. Buzz simply isn’t it for me for the reasons you’ve mentioned and then some.

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    1. Thanks, Kevin — I completely agree. I have too many social-media destinations already :-)

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  7. Haven’t we seen this “design by data” approach before? Microsoft anyone?

    What’s Google’s def. for Information? Always reminds me of AI, we don’t know what it is but we build(organize) it artificially. Yeah that’s going to work.

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  8. I think that Google Buzz does have a lot of potential, but it is going to need a lot of work to get it to where it should be in order to make a proper impact.

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  9. I don’t know if this helps you, but one place where Buzz seems to have a very low noise ratio is in search (for current events).

    Yesterday, when the Tesla was breaking news, I did a search for ‘Tesla’ on a few different sources.

    It was too new for Google
    Facebook was (and is) no help in this regard
    Both Twitter and Buzz gave the goods, but Buzz was hands down better than Twitter.

    Buzz gave a bunch of people each linking to different sources, and a recap of the events, followed by a chronological list of comments on each of the sources.

    Twitter just gave the comments with very few sources, and didn’t organize them in any way that was easy to follow.

    Like I said, though, I don’t know if that helps you figure out how to use it on a day-to-day basis

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    1. Thanks, Ryan — that’s interesting. I will have to give that a try. Thanks for the comment.

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  10. I’m surprised how similar Buzz and Friendfeed are. The only difference is that Google has unleashed this Frankenstein creation to 80M Gmail users with no warning! I bet many of us quit FF despite it’s cool real-time updates, for the same reason. And, I’m sure that will be the fate of Buzz as well.

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