Google’s Buzz(machine)

I still need more time to get my head around Google Buzz, which will enable users to post and share updates, links, photos, videos with the world or with friends tied to geography via the web, mobile apps, and voice. Buzz also promises to prioritize the “buzzes” we get. I think this could be the beginning of some big things:

* The hyperpersonal news stream, which Marissa Mayer has been talking about. The key value here is not just aggregating our streams but prioritizing them by listening to signals that unlock relevance. Those are the buzzwords Bradley Horowitz et al used in the Google presentation of Buzz. This is an attempt to attack with Clay Shirky variously calls filter failure and algorithmic authority. It also has big business implications: the more relevant Google can get with advertising (or some new version of it).

* The annotated world will attach data to locations, data that Google will, in turn, help organize. Buzz will intuit and confirm our location (even guessing what business we might be buzzing from in a given building) so we can post about places; it will display posts about those places; this will make Google’s Place Pages and, of course, maps richer; it will yield more local advertising opportunities.

* Local is clearly a big Google priority. Newspapers, Yellow Pages, local media, and perhaps even craigslist better watch out. Google is gunning to organize our areas and with that comes an incredible flood of advertising opportunity.

* Personalization is key to this: relevance in your feed; publishing to your friends (even understanding who your friends are). I think this portends the end of the universal search and thus of search-engine optimization (there’ll be no way to calculate how high a result rises when everyone’s results are different).

* Voice is rising in importance: You an post a buzz using only voice from your mobile device (read: while driving). This is one reason why Google has been working (through Goog411) to get better and better at voice recognition. Will the keyboard become less important? Will we post more when all we have to do is talk? Will Google then have more to organize for us?

* Social. Google has tried to attack social before and failed. Microsoftlike, it’s trying again. I am disappointed that its interface with Twitter, for example, is only one-way: I can bring Twitter into Buzz but not use Buzz to publish to Twitter. Silly. I’ve long said that the winner in social is not a site; the internet is our social network. The winner will be the company that helps us organize that. To do that, it must be open to all input and output. That’s where we should be looking with Google and Facebook. In that sense, Twitter is ahead of both of them.

* Live. When I first published this post, I left out live. Silly me. Twitter snuck up on Google as on all of us. Google has not been good at live. It needs content to ferment like wine and cheese with our clicks and links telling Google about relevance and authority. Now Google is trying to get live with our updates.

I’ve said since my book came out that there are three wars Google has not yet won: local, live, and social. Well, we see Buzz on those battlefields.

This could be big. Or Buzz could be the next Orkut or SideWiki (read: fizzle). Who knows? But in Buzz, I see Google trying to do attack profound opportunities. Now if I can just use the damned thing.

  • Two things, Jeff:

    1) The main question to ask is this: Does anyone think the hundreds of millions of Facebook and Twitter users are going to abandon those for Buzz?

    2) Re: your comment on Search Engine Optimization — as long as people continue to use search engines to find information, products, and services, SEO is not going anywhere. SEO will die when search engines die. (which is to say, probably never)

    • cm

      Given how facebook is annoying its patrons in droves this is perhaps the ideal time for Google to scoop some market share from FB. As for twitter… well I know very little about twitter but doesn’t buzz add a far richer media experience ie a bit more than you can pack into 140 chars.

      2) SEOs… as long as there are both snakes and oil there will be snake oil vendors.

    • Michael Whitehouse

      RE: SEO

      Not necessarily, Matt. Jeff’s right here. Even before the launch of Buzz, Google was moving away from universal search, towards significantly personalized SERPs.

      Since December, Google has been personalizing search results for everyone using a 180-day cookie:

  • If true, it seems silly that you can’t post to Twitter from a Google account in this setup. Why not just have a box in your Gmail account as (yet another) Twitter app? Ads would be twice as valuable since I can post to both Twitter and read my mail at the same time—never having to leave the one browser window.

  • i have just tested posting a “buzz” via voice on the nexus one. works very very well.

    • Yeah, I’ve just done it from my (now ancient) G1. Just go to maps, pull up the Buzz layer and off you go.

      The little sea of bubbles looks like a promising start.

      Buzz is not Twitter folks.

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  • Jed

    As per usual, I like to look beyond the consumer use of Buzz, and see where it fits in Googles notional ‘enterprise stack’ and low and behold they say Buzz will be added to Google apps in a couple of months – including additional enhancements.

    So, no its not going to replace Facebook and Twitter, but might it bring an acceptable face of enterprise social networking to organizations using Google Apps – quite possibly !

    They need to roll out Apps, Wave, Buzz and Gmail in a big old appliance that you just plug into your own network – for those still worried about the ‘cloud’ and service levels.

  • To be honest, I don’t want any more “personalization.” I want serendipity and randomness in my streams unless I am actively searching for something very, very specific. Google can’t possibly find a formula for every one of my unconnected esoteric interests (I hope).

    • Ah, the user of the “I’m feeling lucky” button.

  • I agree that something feels like it’s missing, with Buzz being something of a one-way aggregation toy box. However, I think there’s something to be said for a person like myself– I rarely post updates to Twitter, yet I read others’ updates. I don’t post to my blog nearly as much as I read others’ blogs. Most of us consume a whole lot more than we create, and I submit that I fit that description by my own choice. I don’t want to create as much as I consume. I get tired :)

    I’m sure that Google will come up with a method to enable pushing updates back to sites like Twitter from the Buzz page, but this seems like a strong first step.

    Great analysis. I’ve been wacking my refresh key in Gmail until it finally showed up.

  • Andrea

    This did it for me. Google is, in a sense, magical, and the brains behind it are far more blue/yellow (an odd combination if you talk to HB gurus) than I will ever be. Aside from the fact that most of it’s glial cells come from my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA (CMU will one day own the world, not Google, Mr. Jarvis!) the beauty of it is that it’s so damn easy.

    Where facebook and twitter harass me with ads within apps, as well as the going through your ass to get to your ears mentality, Google says, hey friend, let’s really take care of you. No sushi today? How about Mexican, at (enter random restaurant), which happens to be 8.4 miles away, moderately priced, here’s the menu, some reviews, etc.

    For travelers like myself, Buzz is a BLESSING and a curse. Blessing in that it completes our decision making process, which I will argue we have come to long before we sought out Buzz’s wisdom, and a curse in that it may inhibit our wilingness to try new things…..but I’ll take it.

    Take that, Twitter. You just got pwned.

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  • Till

    I’ve never used Twitter except passively, but I’ve started using Buzz and I love it. The ability to pull up a map on my Android phone and see what’s going on around me is so cool. And then start a conversation with someone nearby, as two people did on my first message. Fun fun fun.

    The claim of “just the good stuff” is pretty bold, especially since their real-time Twitter results they force upon you tends to be a stream of worthless, offensive garbage. We’ll see.

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  • for:TWiG –> Sergey Brin talks with reporters after the google buzz announcement (22min youtube via @stevegillmor )

    • forgot to mention… lots of topics (china and the national powergrid, for instance) are covered besides buzz

  • Josh

    This strikes me as yet another example of Google adding complexity when people prefer simplicity.

    Google’s search works so well because it’s an extraordinarily minimal interface. Twitter works well because it’s simple to use. Facebook’s interface kind of sucks, but it’s usefulness in terms of keeping in touch outweighs that. (And its interface sucks less than MySpace.)

    Buzz, like Wave, just makes things unnecessarily complex for average people to find it useful on a day-to-day basis. When I say average people, I’m not talking about engineering geeks – who seem to be the only people Google designs products for these days – and uncritical Google worshippers like Jeff.

    Google, they’re the new Microsoft – a day late and a dollar short.

    • Josh,
      Your insults aside, I think your point about simplicity is good.
      Wave, I think, isn’t so much a consumer tool as a platform for tools; we’ll see whatever comes of it.
      Buzz is a bit too complicated and that will have an impact on its adoption.

      • Michael Whitehouse

        I have to say that I agree with Josh. To a great extent, Google has to de-geek its product marketing strategies. Beyond the polysyllabic words and the embrace of openness lies the mundane but crucial fact that Buzz is neither simple enough nor catchy enough to displace Twitter, much less Facebook.

        Jeff, your point about live is very good, though. The engineering-centric culture at Google simply doesn’t allow them to get it. For example, in their real-time search results, they rank tweets on the basis of the size of the tweeter’s following, in a PageRank-like definition of authority. Footprint size might make sense in a static link economy, but it’s senseless in a fluid, real-time environment where anyone can break news or furnish original information (see Iran, Haiti).

      • Try explaining Twitter to my 60 year old father – not simple. I think the concept of new platforms like wave and buzz need time to seep in. Twitter like most web tools is a convergence of say TEXT messaging and the web. Buzz like Wave is more than a simple evolutionary convergence, it is a new platform. Facebook and Buzz and Wave are not simple because they are platforms. And they will rise because people will build on them.

  • GoogleSucks

    Google’s just trying to kill FB/Twitter b/c they won’t carry Google’s ads

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  • Hey Jeff,
    I wonder if Google has fallen into the trap of trying to win on every front. Are there some things that they’ll never be good at because quite frankly no one can be good at everything. Why not use the tried and tested partnering concept and just accept that Twitter has a space which they can connect to.

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  • MrOrganix


    One big part of the problem with Buzz is the “auto-follow” mechanism. In their rush to get immediate critical mass, Google has made a serious tactical error.

    With any new social application, it’s always the early adopters that get the ball rolling .. and let’s face it .. they are a specific breed. At the outset of Facebook and Twitter, the content was pretty lame, the conversations annoying and meaningless, and the overall usefulness of the product was weak. But early adopters can see through all of that – they see the potential, and are seemingly much more tolerant of banal contributions.

    By the time the masses were ready to engage Facebook and Twitter, both products had overcome initial teething problems, powerful social applications had been identified, and meaningful content had been established. They had become palatable (and useful) to the masses.

    No such luck with Buzz. We’ve been automatically signed up to follow the early adopters from our contact lists, and forced to watch them slowly (and painfully) figure out why Buzz is worthwhile. I do not want to watch that.

    By the time Buzz evolves into the powerful social tool it could be, how many people will have already been turned off by the inane usage they are being forced to follow?

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  • Jeff:

    If the internet is our social network as you say (which I agree with), then what we needed was a router. is that router and now Google has purchased Aardvark. I made a decision to change my personal social media strategy as announced on my blog at recently entirely because I saw vark as the tipping point for the web of finally acknowledging that humans were smarter than algorithms. Previously I saw no utility in social media except in knowledge gathering. Now, with a router (probably not the last one), the web now becomes a tool that effectively connects the humanity in a two way conversation. To me it is an abundance model that is the global equivalent of Obviously Google has an opinion because they just bought Aardvark/Mechanical Zoo. I think this is what Buzz will be all about. Real connections filtered by the web. Real help, whether it is an answer to a tech question, or what is a good place to eat, or something real such as “my baby is hungry and you’re a friend of a friend.” Consider the implications of that. Do you want a friend of a friend to contact you and tell you that they are cold and hungry and standing outside your building. That’s real and that’s the implication of vark when combined with global positioning. It could be a homeless person, or it could be former Senator Daschle needing help to push his car out of the snow. The question is which one is scarier.

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  • Nab

    So, no its not going to replace Facebook and Twitter, but might it bring an acceptable face of enterprise social networking to organizations using Google Apps – quite possibly !

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