Google Buzz may have stumbled out of the gate with some features that users really didn’t like (such as auto-following all your email contacts whether you wanted it to or not), but to its credit it fixed those issues quickly and has been on a roll ever since, adding an average of a feature every week since it launched in February. The latest, which was made available today, is a “reshare” button similar to the one that blogging tools like Tumblr have. It’s also a little like the “retweet” function in Twitter, although Buzz has taken its sharing feature in a somewhat different direction, based on feedback from beta testers.
Google Buzz product manager Todd Jackson said in an interview that the ability to reshare someone else’s post has been one of the top user requests since launch, but has also been “probably the most debated feature on the Buzz team of any feature I can recall us doing,” because of all the various usability questions. Resharing may not seem like that complicated an idea, but it is. For example, there was the question of whether to “fork” the conversation when someone reshared something or not — in other words, whether to create a separate, new conversation starting with the item that was being reshared, or whether to connect it to the existing conversation that started with the original posting.
Twitter caused a minor storm of criticism among users when it made a similar decision about retweeting, an informally developed practice that involves the use of the letters RT before a tweet and then, in many cases, adding an additional comment to the original item. When it came up with its own retweet function, Twitter chose to not allow any comments to be added, and also showed the original tweet, along with the original poster’s avatar, to the followers of the person retweeting it, even if they didn’t also follow that person.
That led to complaints from users about tweets from random strangers suddenly appearing in their stream, something Jackson said he wanted to avoid. As a result, Buzz makes the reshared item a new item on its own, and only shows it to those who follow the re-sharer (although Jackson said that some users have asked for the alternate option, and Buzz may allow that in the future). The Buzz reshare function also allows users to add their own comments, and makes it clear that they are resharing it, with a link to the original Buzz user’s post. The original author sees a list of who reshared his or her item, something Jackson says he hopes will also act as a “discovery mechanism” for new users of the service to find other people worth following.
Jackson also said that the feature most users complained about the most when Buzz launched — the auto-following of email contacts — was an attempt to make it easier for new users to find people worth following, which he said is an issue that any new social network has. It turned out to be a bad idea, however, particularly for people who had contacts in their email address book they didn’t want to follow, or make public. The Google Buzz product manager admitted that this was a mistake, but says the intention was to make the service easier. “I wish we had gotten it right from the initial launch,” he said. “It was clearly the wrong idea. But we worked really hard to fix it.”
The number of active users of the site is growing rapidly, Jackson said, although he wouldn’t provide any figures (Google defines an active user as anyone who checks in more than once a week). He also said the number of users who check their Buzz more than 10 times a day is growing, a group he referred to as “hyper-active.” It’s this group that the Buzz team looks at most closely, he said, because they’re power users and the ones most likely to evangelize the service. Google also assumes that their behavior is going to become more mainstream over time.
Buzz also now has a group of several thousand volunteer beta testers who get access to new features before they’re rolled out across the service. Among the features that have been added since launch are a Buzz API (launched last week), Buzz sharing buttons, improved comment collapsing, a Buzz layer in Google Maps and the ability to get Buzz items in your inbox. And Jackson says he plans to stick to the schedule of at least one new feature a week.
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