Buzz is obviously a work in progress. This is troubling to some but doesn’t bother me. I don’t mind that they released it without key features and are going to iterate as they go. If anything I think it’s a strength. Software in general, and social tools in particular, benefit from the developers learning and improving from adoption and use.
Buzz is being designed around social web standards. I love love love this, because standards based systems are the right approach in the long term to enable personal control over one’s data, social arrangement of social context, and organizational variation of types of experience. If standards take hold, it will be possible to create alternatives to Google’s tools. The alternative is a world where one key vendor (e.g. Facebook) owns your data, arranges and controls social context, and controls constituent experience for organizations beholden to it.
Buzz looks and feels like a conversation. It’s a lot more intuitive than Wave, which has the mindwarping capability for people to go back and change somebody’s past words in a conversation thread, and builds in the bizarre expectation that people will understand historical conversations by replaying them verbatim. Buzz is just a regular comment thread, and the social convention is a good thing, thank you.
That said, Buzz is immature. It desperately needs filtering. Without it, Buzz feels like the internet is cascading into one’s consciousness. This is a hard and as-yet-unsolved design problem, to make filtering that people can learn to use. FriendFeed succeeded only for users with geeky tendencies. Facebook is so far failing badly – its news feed switches between useless firehose mode and too-smart-for-its-own-good algorithm mode that picks posts out of the stream for mysterious reasons its homunculus knows and you the reader can’t figure out or control. And its lists are too hard to set up for social filtering, and still not powerful enough.
By default, Google puts Buzz replies into email, which is way to much. It’s possible to turn this off but should be a lot easier.
Buzz is starting with the ability to import content from only a few services. One of the strengths of FriendFeed was the ability to import from a wide variety of services – music, movies, bookmarks, reviews, and more. Then, FriendFeed could serve as a common place to discuss aggregated references. Without the breadth, it opens the door for speculation that Google is paying lip service to open-ness but really wanting to only promote its own services. My guess is that Google really does strategically want the openness, since they have more to gain by expanding the footprint for search and advertising. I look forward to seeing and using those choices.
The worst flaw is social. Buzz recapitulates the weakness in many of Google’s social tool experiments – a weakness in social model. Buzz attempts to jumpstart the network effect by auto-following people who happen to be email contacts, which feels weird random – inbox contacts are rather accidental, compared to other deliberately grown social networks. So far, Buzz lacks the ability to bulk-invite people from other social networks (Twitter, Facebook, other). The lack of import on Day 1 may be smart or lucky to avoid perceived spam, but will be useful, especially once filtering is better. What would be cool would be to allow the import and immediate filtering of Facebook and Twitter lists. And then to enable the setup of lists and groups to visualize and share social contexts.
I like Buzz, think it has potential, and hope it matures to be useful. It has a lot of the strengths of FriendFeed, plus hopefully the cash and patience to iterate until it’s good. And if it is good and gains market share, the traction of standards will enable a better ecosystem and alternatives too.