Google Buzz, Don’t Listen to the Naysayers, They’re Wrong

David Pogue of the New York Times is out with a lukewarm review on Google’s latest entry into the socialmedialand Google Buzz. Pogue calls Buzz a “Twitter wannabe,” and chalks the product up to being too confusing for the average user. In the end Pogue says that Buzz isn’t much of a threat to Facebook or Twitter or even FriendFeed, but that it will have it’s own following.

Meanwhile, over at TechCrunch, Mike Arrington takes Google to task for “force feeding” Buzz to Google’s 175 million Gmail users. He says his post is not about the backlash and privacy issues, but those feature prominently in his critique.

And top PR Blogger Steve Rubel says he’s thinking about checking out of Buzz.

I think they’re all wrong and here’s why.

As my friend Robert Scoble has said in the past, you want to go where the ball is going, not where it’s at today.

Once upon a time people used to share photos on sites like Shutterfly, Snapfish and Ofoto. These sites were mostly concerned with printing photos for people and sharing with a very tight group of private friends. Who would have ever thought people would want to *gasp* let the whole world see their private digital photos?

And then Flickr came along and said, you know, why don’t we just make photos public by default. Maybe all these concerns about people not wanting other people to see their photos are overblown. And it worked. And you know what? I’m sure more than one person has accidentally uploaded a photo to Flickr that they wouldn’t want the rest of the world to see. That person probably quickly figured out the problem, made the image private and life goes on.

So while there are likely stories out there about how people accidentally uploaded private oriented photos to Flickr, in the end, using public photos as a default showed that the vast majority of people simply are not that concerned with people seeing photos of their dogs or their house or their friends or heck, even their kids.

Similarly a very small, but vocal, group of individuals are shrieking from the mountain top about the fact that Google Buzz might have allowed people to see who you email alot. Big deal. The story came out quickly. Those privacy zealots could quickly correct this by making their contact list private if they wanted to, while the vast majority of us don’t really care that Buzz lets people know who we follow. Want to know who I follow? It’s right here for the whole world to see, go for it. The whining about these privacy issues (which have now been fixed by the way) is getting old.

But here’s what Google did right. They took a risk in turning this product loose on the world *in the name of innovation.* They said hey let’s do this now and course correct later. The perpetual beta even without the silly meaningless beta label. Google Buzz has bugs and flaws right now. You’d better believe it. And even as I whine about them myself on Buzz, I *love* the fact that they are there. I love the fact that Google is willing to push an exciting, innovative new social network out there warts and all. I love that they are taking risk in the name of innovation.

You know what I love even more than Buzz as a perpetual beta? I love the passion of the people building Buzz. I love that they have a war room where people hunker down and work all weekend long on fixing Buzz. I love that passion. I love that Google Buzz engineers like DeWitt Clinton are actively engaging the user base of Buzz and giving real time feedback and answers to questions. I love that the Google VP of Product Management Bradley Horowitz himself is writing posts like this on Buzz and that he’s actively engaged with the early Buzz community. Todd Jackson, Buzz’s product manager is also very active as well.

And Google is using Buzz to promote open non-proprietary standards. This is hugely positive. Read Dewitt’s post on that here. Hopefully Buzz will be able to put pressure on companies like Twitter and Flickr to support things like PubHubSubbub. Standards that get our data out of the silos that so many companies like Flickr have become.

It is so, so, so early in the social networking game. And Google has passionate engineers and resources that they clearly are dedicating to this product. Buzz will get better and better in the days ahead. Google will use it as a major tool to help refine their more general search algorithm. Smart photographers who have buzz worthy posts and photos would be wise to embrace Buzz and build a presence there now. A lot of the photos that I sell today are found by people on Google. Having your photos prominently indexed in Buzz will help promote them on the web more broadly speaking. And Buzz is doing a really good job at showing our photos off elegantly.

Already all kinds of interesting conversations are popping up all over Buzz. Last week I used Buzz to announce a photowalk a bunch of us went on last night. Earlier today I posted about Obama’s flip flop on the gay marriage issue and look at the engagement that these sorts of posts are seeing.

Buzz will get less complex. Buzz will get better and faster. Bugs will be fixed. The right features will be rolled out. Too many smart passionate people are working on it for this not to happen. It’s the first inning in a long, long game. Buzz will take market share, significant market share from Facebook, and Twitter and Flickr and definitely FriendFeed, which now feels like an old mare that Facebook’s put out to pasture. And this is a good thing.

To those of you that tried Buzz and found it too complex. Stick with it. It’s going to change quickly and dramatically.

I hope Buzz doesn’t lose that spirit of innovation that I see there today. Too often super innovative companies end up complacent and stop innovating. Because if they keep going in the direction that they are, the internet will in the long run be a better place.

If you want to follow me on Buzz you can find me here, I’ll be spending a lot of time on Buzz in the days and weeks ahead.

Loading Facebook Comments ...
84 comments on “Google Buzz, Don’t Listen to the Naysayers, They’re Wrong
  1. Louis Gray says:

    Huge two thumbs up here. I am fatigued by the naysayers. Google Buzz makes sense and the future is strong.

  2. Well done. Great post.

  3. Shayne says:

    It just shouldn’t take over my inbox in doing so.

  4. Thomas Hawk says:

    Shayne, that’s one of those little things that will get fixed. Heck, already you can build a little filter to take care of this problem for you.

  5. Phil Baumann says:

    I do think we need to remember it’s embryonic. And it’s in Google’s interest to refine and shape and hone Buzz into an easy-to-use interface. I’ve been luke-warm myself, but I do like the possible future it may have.

    Healthy, refreshing perspective, Tom.

  6. Kent says:

    My issue is not all the privacy nonsense. It’s the fact that I don’t want to combine my email and my so-called social networking. I just don’t think that’s efficient. I’d be very inclined to get into Buzz if it were a separate application.

  7. Pleasure to be communicating again Thomas (on Buzz). You were one of the first on my list. Keep it comin’ !

  8. Thomas Hawk says:

    Kent. It’s easy to filter buzz out of your email inbox by just following the instructions from a dozen websites online and other than the fact that it’s on your mail screen the two are entirely separate really.

    http://lifehacker.com/5468067/hideremove-google-buzz-updates-from-your-gmail-inbox

  9. James Kirk says:

    The complex doesn’t get simple. The simple gets complex. Just saying.

  10. Mike says:

    The tone of this post (“whiners,” “shriekers,” and “zealots”) is unbecoming, Thomas. These were private data that Google should have better respected in the first instance, and its failure to do so is more important than the speed with which it dealt with the crisis. Many of us have lower thresholds than you apparently do.

    As one of those who “whined” about the privacy breach, moreover, I’m curious—just what information about yourself you consider private? What do you keep locked up? What would you get upset about a third party making public?

  11. Thomas Hawk says:

    As one of those who “whined” about the privacy breach, moreover, I’m curious—just what information about yourself you consider private? What do you keep locked up? What would you get upset about a third party making public?

    I don’t know Mike. Maybe my credit card number, maybe my social security number? I’m pretty open with a lot of information about me. Who I email isn’t exactly something that I worry about being made public. Certainly I can understand other people might feel differently about this, but I think that this issue was publicized pretty heavily early on allowing most people the opportunity to change their settings if that information was particularly sensitive to them.

  12. Mike says:

    Thanks, Thomas. I’m not sure whether I’d want to be such an open book or not… :) If mandatorily decreased privacy is the wave of the future, I may have to stock up on tinfoil hats and move to Amish country. For now, though, I’ve gone no further than to stop using Google services other than search. (What? Yeah, OK, sure—it’s true that I wear one of the tinfoil hats while searching…)

    Most of the pros and cons have been well hashed elsewhere, but I’ll offer two points that I didn’t notice in your post. First, it apparenlty wasn’t just contacts, but also data from other Google applications (e.g., the Google Reader comments of pseudonymous blogger “Harriet Jacobs,” which allowed her auto-Buzz-following abusive ex-husband to learn her current location and workplace).

    Second, there are also a lot of professionals who seem to use Gmail (and the others) for work. I think this is unfortunate, but it’s what’s happening. (The NY State Bar even issued an opinion saying that Gmail-type services were OK and maintained client confidentiality.) So, all principle to the side, there’s a rather high expectation of and need for privacy in actual usage—privacy even as to the contact list.

  13. Thomas Hawk says:

    Mike, was Buzz mandatory for anyone? Was anyone forced to join Buzz? I think mandatory might be the wrong word there.

    Joining Buzz is a choice. And even if someone were to join and have their contacts made public, they certainly could have changed them to private very quickly. Especially given the massive publicity this issue has been given, it’s hard for me to believe that anyone who cares about this hasn’t at this point had an opportunity to go back and make their contacts private.

    I see no problem with a public by default setting. Facebook is public by default. While I agree that autopopulating it with contacts wasn’t as good an idea as the fix where people are now suggested instead, I think the instances where people were adversely affected by this are overblown at this point.

    Let’s say you join Flickr and upload a photo. By default that photo is a public photo that anyone can see. Let’s say it takes you two days to figure that out before you go and quickly make it private. Was your privacy violated? Should Flickr photos be private by default? Personally I don’t think so. I also think actual photos are far more likely to contain more personal information than who you email most frequently. People take photos of their homes, their kids, their spouse, etc.

  14. Can I just say that I agree and that I believe non-tech people as myself will adopt and begin learning the technology more rapidly than the tech gurus think. I think Buzz is on to something, something more than just a fad that perhaps the normal person will gravitate to and it’ll find it’s own niches and uses amongst varying populations of the world.

    I’m glad I bit down my fear and jumped headfirst into Buzz on Feb. 10th when it finally appeared in my inbox.

    I make art and share it on Buzz. Nice to meet you Thomas!

    BTW – your post was refreshing to read!

  15. The moment I read Buzz was too sharp a curve for David Pogue, I connected my Reader to it.

  16. Fritz says:

    You are correct. I didn’t even know this thing was going to drop itself into my inbox, and yet I was prepared.
    “Hey, look at this thing in my Gmail. Let me find the settings and change them.”
    That was me. Sure, a bit of hunting was involved but before my first buzz I had my following settings set up and set what I wanted as private to (drum roll please) private.
    (Yeah, I hide my following and followers, but, you know, it’s two people and they are boring.)
    As a side note, I went to the mall yesterday and got so angry that people could see my for real in real life face. Figure that out.

  17. Chris says:

    I see your point but I still don’t like Buzz.
    Was it so hard for Google to have it completely off by default but alert people to this new tool they have? That would be my preferred method for these things. Google turning it on for everyone is akin to Flickr deleting accounts without first giving the owner a chance to say stop.

  18. Dave! says:

    I think Pogue was pretty on-point, I didn’t take away that he thought Buzz was relegated to the niche, I took away that he thought Buzz needs some major improvements before it will gain mainstream adoption. And he’s right. There are many things I don’t like about Buzz, but they are all fixable–and I have a feeling Google will eventually get them right. But they haven’t yet.

  19. John Slown says:

    “I’m pretty open with a lot of information about me.” – TH.

    Thomas, not to be rude, but isn’t “Thomas Hawk” a psuedonym? You’ve made a decision to blog in that manner. Perhaps to some of us, email is an equally private matter.

  20. wygit says:

    “Mike, was Buzz mandatory for anyone? Was anyone forced to join Buzz? I think mandatory might be the wrong word there.”

    I first heard about Buzz a couple of days after it hit, say a reference to checking the bottom of my gmail page, and yes, it was on.

    It was an ‘opt-out’ process.
    There’s a difference between JOINING Flickr and having a default public setting, and discovering some application you haven’t heard of is letting your boss see the prospective employers you’ve been corresponding with, or letting your abusive ex see everyone you email.

    That’s whining?

  21. Danny says:

    I’ll be honest. Never heard of this. Don’t have a G-mail account. But now, I’m a little paranoid that yahoo accounts, old hotmail accounts, even old Juno mail accounts that are just floating around may be subject to a new application that automatically puts you on, then gives you and “opt out” option, for an email address that I havent used in years. Hell, i accidentally found an email for livejournal from 7 or 8 years ago, thought hmmm, I wonder if the account is still there, and lo and behold, i still had a livejournal account. Take that information, make it public, and I could never even know about it. That seems a little wrong.

  22. Thomas Hawk says:

    John, the fact that I use a professional name for my photography has nothing to do with a privacy concern.

    Mark Twain was no less Mark Twain than Samuel Clemens. Charlie Sheen is no less Charlie Sheen than Carlos Irwin Estévez. If anybody wants my legal name they can easily get it by doing a very easy and very basic “whois” search on my blog where it’s registered and listed. It’s also been published many, many times on the web and also in major news outlets like the Los Angeles Times.

    I sell photos professionally as Thomas Hawk. It’s a photography brand that sounds better than Andrew Peterson. It’s the name I’ve been using for my photography brand for years.

    While I can appreciate that folks like you might value the privacy of your email contact list, I’d suggest that there are/were very simple ways to address this concern like going to your settings and choosing to make your buzz contacts private.

    The fact is though that 99.9% of us don’t care about people seeing who we are following. And making your contact list public by default is not a bad thing. If you go to flickr right and choose to follow a bunch of people, anyone can see who you follow there too.

    While the autofollow method was probably not the best way to introduce buzz, Google quickly course corrected, changed it to a suggested follow list and beefed up other privacy settings and notifications.

    Other than sensational charges by some in the tech press I’ve heard very little about how this really truly affected anyone at all.

    Wygit, I may be wrong here, but I seem to recall that when I first clicked on the buzz tab I had to authorize it before it was activated.

  23. JP says:

    Thomas writes, “The fact is though that 99.9% of us don’t care about people seeing who we are following. And making your contact list public by default is not a bad thing. If you go to flickr right and choose to follow a bunch of people, anyone can see who you follow there too.”

    This comment is off-base on so many fronts.

    1. Have you done a scientific poll on how many of “us” don’t care about people seeing who we are following? Let me hazard a guess: no, you haven’t. In which case you need to keep you yap shut and not pull numbers out of your hiney. A quick survey of 10 people I know has more than 50% of people wishing to keep this information private.

    “Making your e-mail contact list public by default is not a bad thing.”

    What? You’re joking. Surely you’ve read the stories about the risks here and the specific damages reported by people who had this happen to them.

    “he fact is though that 99.9% of us don’t care about people seeing who we are following. And making your contact list public by default is not a bad thing. If you go to flickr right and choose to follow a bunch of people, anyone can see who you follow there too.”

    Flickr is a photo sharing site and there is not the same long-standing expectation of security and privacy. E-mail is *always* private and it’s assumed that all information contained within is available only to the owner — there is no option to “share” your inbox with the world or to give other people access to your inbox. Photo sharing is a completely different model.

    Also — your justification/rationalization for your use of a pseudonym as not constituting anonymity is utterly disingenuous. You have chosen to not disclose your real identity, therefore you have chosen to remain anonymous.

  24. Thomas Hawk says:

    JP, I have not chosen not to hide my “real” identity in the least. My legal name is Andrew Peterson.

    It’s been publicly available as the register of the thomashawk.com domain since I started blogging, since day 1. Seriously, anyone and everyone can easily see that. The fact that I’ve built a photography career as Thomas Hawk is not disingenuous at all.

    Is Charlie Sheen disengenous for building his acting career as Charlie Sheen instead of Carlos Irwin Estévez?

    In terms of your digital photos vs. email contacts, I think it’s a very appropriate comparison. Photos by nature include very personal, private information. Photos of your house, of your car, of your children, of your coworkers, these are as personal as who you email.

    The point is that both Flickr and Buzz give you an opportunity to turn off the public default and recharacterize your photos or contact list as private. I see nothing wrong with that at all.

    And Google is not displaying anyone’s private email at all. They are simply sharing who *you* choose to add as a buzz contact if you don’t elect to make it private. That’s quite a different thing than “all the information contained in your email box,” which is a disingenuous way to characterize the current privacy debate.

  25. JP says:

    “And Google is not displaying anyone’s private email at all. They are simply sharing who *you* choose to add as a buzz contact if you don’t elect to make it private. That’s quite a different thing than “all the information contained in your email box,” which is a disingenuous way to characterize the current privacy debate.”

    I believe you missed the point of my comparison.

    The people you e-mail — your contact list — is, as we have seen in spades over the last few days, considered by a very large number of people to be as private as the contents of the inbox itself. People have been shocked that this contact list was made public by default, and many people have come forward with examples of how this has damaged their privacy in a tangible way.

    The point is that e-mail is inherently assumed to be a private service from soup-to-nuts — there is no reasonable expectation that anything associated with your account will suddenly become public domain. Because e-mail has a long-standing expectation of being a closed-system private service, if you want to do *anything* that changes that model you need to be excruciatingly clear about the consequences of what’s happening and you need to take extra pains to educate your user base about the new features before you take any action.

    Google failed spectacularly in that regard with the Buzz rollout and freaked out a whole lot of people for very good reason.

    Flickr, on the other hand, is a photo *sharing* service — a service that is designed to be accessed by others, and that is public out of the gate. Totally different expectation with a much lower burden for disclosure and hand-holding.

  26. Thomas Hawk says:

    JP, you are being disingenuous.

    Some people have issues with privacy and the default public photos at flickr every bit as much as they do with Buzz. Do a search for “privacy” in the Flickr help forum and you get over 5,000 results. http://www.flickr.com/search/forum/?lang=en-us&q=privacy

    Many people feel as private about their photos even on a photo sharing site as they do on Buzz. And remember, Yahoo closed Yahoo photos forcing people to choose to migrate out of those accounts. Many ended up in a more public Flickr.

    And yet photos are still public by default on Flickr. For GOOD REASON. Most people could care less if people see their Flickr photos. Just like most people could care less if people see their Buzz contacts. Many want photos and contacts public (like me), but the vast majority of people are just plain ambivalent about it. It is a very small minority of people, like you, who seem offended by a public default setting.

    The analogy between Buzz a *social networking site* (where you’d expect your contacts to be public) and Flickr, a social networking photo site is apropos.

  27. Jon Ford says:

    Mmmm, I think that it’s not Scoble’s phrase, it is Gretzky’s. “You skate to where the puck is going, not where the puck is.”

  28. Rich says:

    As someone who works closely to provide information security. It is worth stating once that while you’re correct Thomas, most people won’t care if Buzz gives away their ‘secrets’. But there is still a big question mark on how Google stuffed this up so badly.

    Sure, a user can quickly hide their contacts after the fact, but the truth is that once a breach has occurred you’re compromised no matter how quickly you respond. Some real-world examples of people affected here include:

    Abusive spouses gaining contacts for new partners,
    Underground human-rights protestor networks
    Journalist sources such as whistle blowers

    Again, I’m sure that these folk have tried to cover their tracks as much as possible, but why did Google think that exposing this PII would be cool without saying ‘ok here’s what I’m about to do’. (Which clearly wasn’t so hard to do, as they managed to roll out their updates pretty quickly once the wave of hate started).

    Social networks are cool, and I’m sure Buzz will be worth following. But don’t confuse the valid criticisms of the breach in trust with general feedback on the service itself.

  29. wygit says:

    >>Wygit, I may be wrong here, but I seem to recall that when I first clicked on the buzz tab I had to authorize it before it was activated.

    It’s possible that’s how it worked for you, but The first time I saw ANY mention of BUZZ on my gmail site was when I checked and saw it was enabled.

    If I hadn’t read some of the rants from the ‘whiners’, it would probably STILL be enabled.

    >>I’d suggest that there are/were very simple ways to address this concern like going to your settings and choosing to make your buzz contacts private.

    It’s kind of hard to do that when Google never told me they were turning it ON.
    Why is that so difficult to understand? We’re somehow have a dialog somewhere saying “We have a new service that lets you do X and unless you tell us not to, we’re going to share Y?”

    You’ve said several times here “Joining Buzz is a choice. And even if someone were to join..”

    If I had been GIVEN a choice, it wouldn’t be here ranting…
    I think if MOST people here had been given a choice, you wouldn’t have had cause to write this post.

  30. Mike says:

    Mike, was Buzz mandatory for anyone? Was anyone forced to join Buzz? I think mandatory might be the wrong word there.

    By “mandatory,” I really meant to refer to what seems to be your vision of the information future (i.e., “where the puck is going”), a world with much broader tolerance or pressure for public-by-default/opt-out-if-ya-gotta-problem. But, yes, some people had no choice but to be enrolled in Buzz. It was not voluntary, although remaining a Buzz participant or Google user is mostly voluntary.

    Flickr is tangential. Yes, some people want more privacy. So far as I know, however, Flickr has been public-by-default from the jump. So, there is no issue of breach of trust or sudden, unilateral publication of previously private material. Sure, people were closed out of Yahoo! Photos, but I don’t think they and their images were auto-enrolled in Flickr. Flickr would truly be analogous only if we were talking about someone new to Gmail/Talk/Reader who signed up today for Buzz, knowing what it was, and then complained that it’s not private.

    The primary reason I continue to care about this is that I think the configuration of Buzz at launch reveals unpleasant truths about Google and either Google’s overall approach to privacy or Google’s overall compliance and validation systems and culture. If Google really thought that unilaterally making private data public was good and proper, then I think the company has no business in the e-mail/chat/telephony/data business. If only some Googlers thought this launch configuration was good and proper, and they were able to launch despite official policy, then Google does not have adequate privacy compliance systems and procedures in place—which I think is unacceptable for so large, mature, and ubiquitous a company.

    The swift “fixes” to Buzz do nothing to remedy these deeper implications, which I think should occupy consumers, citizens, and regulators for a long, thoughtful time. Yes, I know that Google’s business model is ultimately orthogonal to privacy, but the company seemed to have struck a roughly acceptable balance and stuck with it… until now.

  31. @h0zae says:

    Thanks for the post. I have to disagree with you. I think the reaction would have been different if Microsoft had done the same thing with Outlook (or Hotmail).

    I am big fan of Google, and have always praised their push for open standards and innovation. I use many of their services. I would have gladly shared everything with them, but this is more than “sharing” my information. A simple solution would have been a standard opt-in.

    Most users had the “Buzz” icon appear automatically, some people clicked on “Try Buzz”, and other clicked on “No Thanks”. Even if users clicked on “No Thanks”, Buzz was still active, but hidden.

    Google fd up this time. This was more about #’s than innovation. I wrote a little more about my experience and thoughts about Google Buzz here: http://buzzkill.posterous.com

    Keep up the great work.

  32. skaSmith says:

    Re the ‘perpetual beta': I think what you are describing is ‘open-source’, yes? And guess what, ad hoc intelligence combined with geek competitive kaizen makes a better product!