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