6th Mar 2010 | 10:30
Do we want or need the new Google Buzz?
Much like Google Wave, the first problem with Buzz is trying to neatly encapsulate just what it is.
It's a dash of Twitter, a bit of FriendFeed, a smidgen of Google Reader plus several other services – most notably Foursquare's location check-in system for mobile devices.
At its heart, though, the idea is for Gmail to be your social hub rather than just your mailbox, with friends' status updates, videos, photos and more, all presented in one handy list.
The service rolled out literally overnight, giving Buzz user numbers that other budding networks can only dream of. It seems like a good idea. And yet…
The problem with Buzz is that it's designed for a world where everyone spends all day in Gmail chatting to friends, not one where we all have different mail accounts, use multiple networks and already have social profiles on services such as Facebook.
It's not a tool that we want or need so much as one that Google wants us to need, letting it consolidate all that yummy data in a new walled garden under its own control.
It's already committed several privacy sins, including auto-following contacts and, by extension, creating public lists of everyone you communicate with on a regular basis. You can opt out of this, but it's enabled by default.
Join the network
Had Buzz been a separate service (still using Google Profiles as your central hub, but with Gmail/Google Reader as viewer applications), everything would have been fine. As a dedicated Gmail feature, it simply doesn't feel right at the moment.
It's a one-size-fits-all solution to the open question of how much we all want to publish and share online, and a worryingly arrogant one.
Microsoft has something similar in Live, which hasn't rocked the world either. No matter how cool Google finds the idea of Buzz, it's tough not to feel like it's mostly been forced on us because of the company's past failures to make any real headway in social networking – Dodgeball, Jaiku and Orkut spring to mind.
There is, of course, a chance that Google knows what's best for us, but for the time being we'd rather it just focused on quietly delivering the mail and finding us stuff.
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