Buzz: A beta too soon

As soon as Buzz was announced — before I could try it — I tried to intuit its goals and I found profound opportunities.

Now that I’ve tried it, reality and opportunity a fer piece apart. It’s awkward. I’d thought that I had wanted Twitter to be threaded but I was wrong; the simplest point quickly passes into an overdose of add-ons. Worse, Google didn’t think through critical issues of privacy — and it only gets worse (via danah boyd). I won’t go as far as Steve Rubel and some others, who instantly declared Buzz DOA; there is the essence of something important here (which I think will come out in mobile more than the web). But there’s no question: Buzz has kinks.

I was going to use that line in the headline — that Buzz is a beta too soon — but the irony is that Buzz is the one product Google did not release as a beta. Big mistake, I think.

In fact, even if Buzz had been released as a beta to a small audience, I’m not sure all the problems would have surfaced because it takes a lot of people using it to surface those problems: unwanted connections and too much noise.

So I wonder whether Google should have moved the users up the design chain — something I’ve been advising retailers and manufacturers to do. The sooner one can learn from one’s customers/users/public (not turning design into democracy but enabling the target to help make you smarter and make what you’re creating better), the better. What if Google had released screenshots and wireframes of Buzz? It’s not as if someone else was going to steal it; Buzz was Google catching up to Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare anyway. Very few people would have bothered to dig into the design of the product but enough might have — the 1% rule — to warn Google off the worse of Buzz’s bloopers.

Then again, isn’t that what Google did with Wave? Some — many of the same insta-critics — declared it too difficult and DOA while I reminded people that Google specifically said it released a version very early in the process so people could use it and, more importantly, develop new products atop it and through that, Google would learn what Wave really was.

So where’s the happy medium? Or as I ask in the presentation I’ve been making on Beta (likely next book): When’s the beta baked? How done is done?

I’ll be contemplating the answer to those questions and I ask your help and opinions and stories and examples.

Were I to give Google advice on Buzz — what the heck, everyone else is — I think I’d release a product plan for comment and then put out a clearly labeled beta and then invite only volunteers to try it and then make sure that at every step there’s a clear opportunity for me to opt out of a choice and tell Google why I was doing it so Google could learn. I’d listen better.

: MORE: This is a video I did for the release of What Would Google Do? summarizing the beta section in the book, which in turn inspired the thinking above:

  • Nasarius

    If you filled out a public Google profile, I don’t think it’s an erroneous assumption that you either 1) don’t care if your contact list is semi-public, or 2) you know enough to be able to turn that feature off. Even my technologically-illiterate girlfriend was able to figure out that because she hadn’t filled out a profile, nobody could see who she was following.

    So all the hand-wringing about privacy is extremely boring. If you don’t want some information to be public, don’t make it public. It’s very easy to simply not participate in any of these services. If anyone genuinely cared about confidential information, they would be using encryption. It’s quite easy to set up.

    The comment spam is rather annoying. The larger problem is that people are treating Buzz like Twitter; ie, a global chatroom. The aim as I see it is to be much more focused on friends and neighbors.

    But for the moment, just an option to hide/fold comments by default would be nice. I want to read what Jeff Jarvis writes, not the inane comments by random people. Cough.

    Cheers from Berlin…

  • Having read the NY Times article you linked, I’m going to admit that I’ve so far removed from the idea of abusive ex-spouses seeking to harm me physically. I cannot wrap my head around the notion of needing to hide behind the Internet’s skirt in order to keep me out of harm.

    Maybe I’m reaaallly daft, but it looks to me that the only info about your contacts which Buzz shares is the names of those who have public profiles (operative word being “public”). Buzz does connect the dots that you may not have realized where connected, but Buzz only seems different from Twitter in that Buzz is now packaged with Gmail. If the concern is about privacy, then get off the dance floor!

    I’ll be terribly interested to hear you, Gina and Leo talk about it today. Thanks for the several links in the article.

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  • Kinks aside. I like it. It allows me to easier diesseminate by liberal agenda through what I share on Google Reader and what I Tweet :)

  • jojo

    It is good to get both constructive positive and negative feedback from products. When it comes to negative feedback, it would be immensely constructive for those that find flaws in a product to concentrate on how to better the product rather then just throw tomatoes at it, so let’s be constructive and practical about Google Buzz. How can Google Buzz be improved? To Jeff Jarvis who I have immense respect for and watch or listen to every single week along with Leo Laporte and Gina Trapani on This Week in Google I offer this challenge. We all know Google usually releases products in beta form to a limited audience of beta testers. This is what ‘What Would Google Do?’ is all about. As Jeff has pointed out, in this case Google Buzz was not released to a limited beta audience but released to everybody with a Gmail account. That’s the strategy Google chose this time around for good or for bad due in perhaps to certain measurable quantifiable signals or as an extension to Gmail and it’s already established base of users. Now we know that Google is NOT going to pull Google Buzz back into a limited beta test run, especially with the unusual high interest it already has received. This puppy is full steam ahead! We could argue about coulda-woulda-shoulda all day long but that’s not constructive. What’s constructive? Constructive is moving ahead and quickly make fixes and tweaks along the way, listening to users. Better privacy controls have already been set in place because of constructive feedback. So what else, what now, what do we do about it? Now that the whole kit and kaboodle is out of the bag how do we make improvements? As you pointed out Jeff, sometimes flaws can’t be pointed out without scaling the product out. So Jeff perhaps we can get a wish list of tweaks and adjustments and great possibilities you can dream up. Thanks.

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  • I agree with what you’ve said Jeff but I think Google is trying to “say” that it is maturing as a software company by skipping the external Beta. As they have been using it for months internally I think there is a bit of arrogance that they are now big enough to create, test and validate internally, thus skip the Beta. This gets away from what helped Google grow Gmail. And I agree that they should have done a Beta with Buzz, maybe not necessarily as you suggest but some sort of Beta.

    I like the Gmail and Wave type of beta of invite forwarding. I think it really could have allowed its own buzz to be generated while allowing them to enhance Buzz quickly, as they are doing so now with privacy.

    Here is what I suggest Google improve Buzz with:

    I do notice now the updates per my first point. I don’t know why I didn’t see the highlights before writing that Buzz post? Probably just too much to take in with something new.

    Keep up all the great thoughts and comments. I love the TWIG show and what you contribute! :)

  • I think that Google’s public beta theory is a lot more complex than people expect – what you’ve said in the video is a fairly good running stance for what they’ve done in the past. Having been one of the early adopters of Google products since GMail first came out, it’s easy to believe that El Goog stands behind the mantra of “The Perfect is the Enemy of the Done.”


    I think the gap here really comes from users’ expectations, and some of the reporting about Buzz. It’s not a social network, not as we know them anyway. Rapid expansion isn’t the ideal, here, quality and interaction is. This, at least, is a large divergence from Twitter and Facebook, where follow numbers matter.

    It’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out. Perhaps Buzz will make for a good case study of crowd reaction and deviance from expectation.

  • i like Google Buzz but at this moment in my opinion is not enough arrivals and user-friendly

  • While launching in beta makes sense it doesn’t solve a fundamental design problem that Google seems to be suffering from as of late. Their new product lacks intuitiveness.

    I was interested in Wave, still am actually, but i’ve been forced to head to the instruction book on how to use it. I think Buzz has followed the same route. Because they wanted it to strengthen gmail they ended up making gmail more difficult to use. Wrong direction.

    What I want back is Simple Google thinking. A box that you type in and it does what you expect. Bring that thinking to social media and they may add to the conversation instead of confusing it.

  • Seconded that Buzz has better on mobile. The geo-location makes other services in the space moot (for me). Your point that it was not launched in beta was new on me – hadn’t noticed (though, GOOG’s rendered ‘beta’ more of a label than anything else).

    re “not thinking it through” w/r/t security implications, it’s hard to feel that’s the case: when jumping onto another front of SocNetting, having the immediate – and visible – membership / graph leapfrogs so many of the initial “network-value” challenges. The square of our most-frequent contacts is a significantly larger number than starting with 0. That increase is significant enough that it’s “justification” for security implications from Google’s business PoV. Of the complaints so far, security issues are still primarily the domain of a few deeper die-hards; the general public is focused mostly on other perceived shortcomings (and / or enjoying the Buzz, as your participants above are).

    An imperfect initial release is hardly a hanging offense; I look forward to the improvements.

  • I was a little surprised that they brought Buzz out so quickly. I have been playing with Voice and Wave. I see a lot of possibilities in both. I happen to have an old Gizmo account–I used it as part of a large FirstClass online workplace. If you put that together with Voice, which Google obviously intends to do, you will have a truly revolutionary telephone system. It has its problems, but you expect that in a beta and I do not mind being a lab rat. Wave also has a lot of potential uses–and a lot of glitches. If all goes well, I can imagine designing an online workplace using it. Buzz seems to me to be at about the same level as these two betas and I think it was a mistake not to go through a process of using volunteers who do not mind running into the occasional wall–and will report the problem. I have not been on long enough to investigate the security issues mentioned–I just came on today, after reading about it in the blogs. I do not have much of a network at this point and have not really looked at that end of it. Frankly, I am not a big fan of this sort of social media. I have watched Twitter become steadily less social and more media and I expect this will take the same route. I like the kind of boundaries I can establish with Wave and am having fun with a few other junkies playing with it. I am also not real big on mobile web. I use Voice from my cell, but I tend to use my cell to communicate when I am on the road and nothing else–what a concept.

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  • I think that you’re on the right track with “Beta.” The concept captures a lot of the thinking and philosophy that you have talked about, written about (and lived) over the years that we have known each other. Go for it!


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  • cm

    Wireframing and storyboarding might work for movies etc where the storyline is linear and controlled by the editor/director. Wireframing and stoyboarding are incredibly ineffective ways to trial most software ideas mainly because so few people actually have the necessary skill and imagination to interpret them properly and the dynamic nature is difficult to appreciate.

    Far better to put a functional (if limited and quirky) prototype in front of people so that they can interact with it. That’s what is behind the Open Source philosophy of “Release early, release often”.

    That does not mean releasing a buggy system, but it does mean releasing widely so that you get good feedback and get to understand user scenarios better.

    The release policy for Buzz is very different to that for Wave because Wave is primarily a platform, a developer tool, while Buzz is primarily an end user tool.

  • I thought you Beta section was the most inspiring and your recent presentation on it was wonderful. I hope you go get your Beta on!

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