Google’s Social Envy Leads To The Worst Kind of Buzz

Google is getting too Microsoftish in its behavior and choices lately. I want to believe it is still an innovator; both hip and cool. But clearly Google has been suffering from social envy on a variety of fronts.

My previous two blog posts focused the power of social searching and the rise of Twitter as a specialized search tool (In Twitter Search I Trust).  I offered speculation on Google’s next move and commented on their envy of the social network.  So folks, I feel obligated to post a little something that acknowledges Google’s Buzz debacle. This is just my personal two cents of the past week that you can roll in to the millions of other Buzz reactions out there.  I’ve embedded links to resources on privacy settings and tips for your reference. Please comment, respond, etc.  I am sure the buzz on Buzz is far from over.

First: Don’t Ignore the Privacy Buzz
If you’ve ignored the Tweets and headlines about Google’s privacy gaffe with Buzz, please familiarize yourself with the basic issues. What happened this week with Buzz  impacts everyone, whether you use Gmail or not. For my educator friends, and really anyone working in a profession where privacy is critical, brush up on some of the Buzz issues.  Read up on the privacy concerns and changes to learn how to best manage your profile and identity. Most of the heat on Google has been focused on publicly viewable contact information. Users were unaware that their personal contact information, and the contact info of others in their address books, might be unintentionally exposed without setting up their Google profiles properly.

Lesson learned: Do not assume social networks should be based on a user’s email habits
Google initially set Buzz’s default to opt-in for all of its Gmail users.  Let that wash over you for a minute.  If you have a Gmail account, you were automatically up and running on Buzz when it was released this week (hence the privacy panic). Personally, I think this is a bold assumption that:

  1. I have room for more social networking
  2. The hub of activity should be within my personal email
  3. The  people I email the most are the same people I want to socialize with online.

I have many lovely email exchanges with my kids’ teachers, but this doesn’t mean we should become instant online pals. The same goes for my relationship with my own students. Aggregated data on my email habits usually does not reflect my true social network. In fact, the people I socially network with I tend not to email as much.  I mean, hasn’t Google heard that people really don’t use email as a social network tool, or at the very minimum email is an “old” technology? Of course they have and this has resulted in Buzz and Google’s acquisition of social search tool aardvark this past week.

So What’s Next?
Personally,  I am exhausted from all the buzzing about Buzz.  It is a stretch to find positive praise about the tool.  And Buzz users reactions range from lukewarm to outrage. Before Buzz, Google had clumsy attempts at social networking, including its acquisition of Orkut. If Buzz is an improvement on past efforts, and a true competitor to Facebook and Twitter, any shred of interesting potential with Buzz is overshadowed (justifiably) by Google’s amazingly poor judgement about privacy. It made me wonder just what does “social” mean to the folks that work at Google?  It also showed me that Google should stick to doing what it does best, and social just isn’t its expertise.

Since Tuesday, Google engineers are scrambling to put new privacy options in place (Read Google’s spin and updates on their blog).  And even though I found the fine print at the bottom my gmail to turn off buzz, that was not good enough as I had to hunt down my Google profile settings and manually manipulate the options located there to lock down my information. (See Lifehacker Blog for detailed tips).

I haven’t written Buzz off completely. I am waiting for Google to treat Buzz less like the global beta-release experiment that it is.  When I push aside all of the privacy press, and really look at Buzz the tool, I am underwhelmed.  The UI is less than fresh to me and is too linear. Frankly, when thinking about people new to social networking, I think Buzz is less than user friendly for them. I will wait on reporting more on this aspect once I take the full Buzz plunge, assuming this privacy buzz gets figured out.

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Author: rpetersmauri

Eternal student. Previous research director at edX.org. Engineering online experiential learning environments at Northeastern U, teaching learning analytics at Brandeis U.

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