What is Google Buzz for? As with any social networking tool or social media service, this is the fundamental question both Google (s goog) and its users collectively have to answer. Part of the reason why Buzz has come under so much criticism over privacy and other issues (which Google addressed during a panel at SXSW this weekend) is that users and the search company seem to have different ideas about what Buzz is, and how it should be used. To the company’s credit, it has been listening and adapting as quickly as it can, and has even asked sociologist and Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd to come and speak about privacy and Buzz at Google, after she gave a very critical talk at SXSW about the service.
Apart from the privacy aspect of Buzz, one of the ongoing debates about the service is whether it should be used for aggregating or publishing — or both. When Buzz was first released, many people (including me) did what they thought the creators of the service wanted them to do: they followed a bunch of their contacts from Gmail, and then selected a bunch of other content platforms and social networks to connect to their Buzz stream — Flickr photos, Google Reader shared items, Twitter and so on. But a growing number of Buzz users are unhappy with the practice of connecting various content streams to the service. Like Egon Spengler from “Ghostbusters,” they don’t want people to “cross the streams.”
One of the most thoughtful critics of this practice has been Mahendra Palsule, an editor at Techmeme who goes by the handle Sceptic Geek. Both on Buzz and on his personal blog, Palsule has described what he sees as the downside of combining multiple streams into one place — namely, repetition, a lack of focus, etc. But mostly, he seems to feel that dumping content from one social network into another defeats the purpose, and that the right thing to do is to create and publish content specifically for Buzz — in other words, to treat it as a separate platform like a blog, rather than as an aggregator.
This is a real problem with social media today. Everyone wants maximum likes, shares, retweets on each and every thing they share. Their hope, understandably, is that each morsel they throw into social media becomes a feast on which everyone will drool. Well, count me out. If someone is auto-feeding the same thing on all networks, it doesn’t add any value to me to follow them on all networks. Especially if they are not engaging in conversation where their content is landing.
At least one member of the Google Buzz team seems to agree. Google engineer DeWitt Clinton noted in a recent post that O’Reilly media founder Tim O’Reilly had stopped feeding Twitter into his Buzz stream (which O’Reilly described in a Buzz post). Clinton said: “Tim O’Reilly is now using Buzz the way I think Buzz can be used best — as a publishing and conversation platform in its own right. It is great to see Tim now posting long-form articles on Buzz, and the conversations that follow are just as high-quality and engaging as I had hoped for.”
Like O’Reilly, I have also stopped importing my Twitter posts into Buzz, partly because tweets seem to get imported in clumps of several posts at a time, which makes them hard to filter or differentiate. But I continue to have my Flickr and my Google Reader connected to the service (although there’s a separate issue with shared Reader items, namely that Buzz users can’t comment on them unless you add them individually to a group of contacts who have that ability). And I am kind of on the fence as far as seeing Buzz as a separate platform that requires unique content. How many platforms can we post content to? Between a blog, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and half a dozen other networks, it can get exhausting to post and monitor unique content everywhere. To me, one of the benefits of services like FriendFeed and Buzz is that they can pull the streams together.
DeWitt Clinton says that he sees the potential for the service to play a combined role, both as its own platform and as a way of extending the reach of other content services — specifically, blogs. For example, he says the future of Buzz includes implementing a cross-platform commenting protocol called Salmon (which Laurie Sullivan does a great job of describing here), which would allow users to comment on blog posts both through the original blog platform and through Buzz, with both places showing all the comments, regardless of where they originated. As he goes on to note:
Another trend I’ve noticed is that many people are returning to their full format blogging platforms (wordpress, blogger, etc), and are taking advantage of the real-time and full-fidelity content-preserving syndication to Buzz to engage with their readers here. To me, this is exactly the way it should be, and I’d be personally thrilled if Buzz helps issue in a return to the era of long-form personal publishing.
How do you use Buzz — or do you see yourself using it at all? Do you think it should be an aggregator or a separate publishing platform of its own? Let us know in the comments.
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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Arekev