I decided to wait a while after the release of Buzz before commenting, but I think that it’s become pretty clear Buzz is, at best, a work in progress. Based on my own listening and experience it looks like reaction falls into two categories: I hate it and I’m not going to use it or I’m going to tolerate it because I can’t ignore Google. Both of these reactions portray a sad place for Google to be. For me the missing piece is that with Buzz, Google has strayed away from its core mission. You know that one, the one about organizing information and making it useful. Now we all know that Google has been able to stray from the mission and succeed, Gmail is a perfect example and I still believe that Google Wave will ultimately do the same. But the issue is that Google is playing in a whole new sandbox: Social Media and succeeding in this arena takes a lot more nuance than Google has been used to.
Why is social media so important to Google? The reason is that the next frontier of Search is all about Social Search. Google has done a great job of owning everything around keyword search by using relevancy to drive results. But what if you had to choose between Google relevancy and a friend’s recommendation? That’s the potential of Social Search. Unfortunately much of that potential is locked up in a walled, unsearchable garden called Facebook.
Buzz is Google’s , apparently rushed, attempt to take an existing network of over 146 million users and turn it into a social network. The problem is that aside from the many issues that have already been documented including privacy and interface issues, Google missed two key elements. The first is that Google strength has always been as an aggregator. Creating open pipes between different information streams and putting them in a common platform that allowed users to better manage, understand and act on information. Buzz has so far failed in this regard. For example on Buzz you can see your tweets coming in, but you can’t message out into Twitter. This makes for huge frustration and loses the potential appeal that Buzz had so as a common platform for social media.
The second problem is a lack of understanding of how people use and relate to social media. Anyone who has looked at the raw volume of complaints that pour out when Facebook makes a seemingly innocuous interface change has got to understand that judgment is quick and merciless in the social media universe. Google’s lack of testing and high speed roll out built an initial anticipation which collapsed when users saw the poor interface and complex structure that Buzz had created. An extreme example of this is recent news that uninstalling Buzz can delete your Google profile, which is no small matter if you have taken the time to create a Google verified profile.
On the other hand Google still has a great deal at play in social media that can work to its advantage. Google’s integration of Twitter into search results is a huge change that marketers are going to have to pay attention to. A clear example is that in the first month since Google added Twitter to search results Twitter’s traffic has increased by 9%. (If you haven’t seen Twitter results on Google try searching for something highly tweetable, say, “Lady Gaga”, you should see it about half way down the page). All of this goes to show that by aggregating Twitter, a successful and adaptable service, into its own area of expertise, Search, Google can have a relevant role in social media and social search without trying to gain overwhelming control. In fact, by continuing to make Twitter more relevant and building its staying power Google will be able to actively keep its fingers in social search, at least until they fix Buzz.
Uninstalling Buzz can delete your profile: http://mcollier.blogspot.com/2010/02/disable-google-buzz-and-loose-your.html
Twitter’s traffic increased 9%: http://searchengineland.com/twitters-traffic-up-9-thanks-to-google-36509?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+searchengineland+%28Search+Engine+Land%29&utm_content=Google+Reader