There is no shortage of discussion (pun avoided) on Google’s new built-into-Gmail social network. For many people, today was the first day they were able to get in and play around with it. Like Google Wave, most people weren’t sure how it would work or what to do with it. Actually, Buzz seems to be more like the early descriptions of Wave than Wave itself is.
What it does well
If you’re familiar with other social networks, you might say that Buzz is Friendfeed and Twitter integrated into Gmail. It can pull in content from various sources, like your blog, your Twitter feed, your Flickr or Picasa photos, and display them to all of your followers. It also handles discussions very well. Once you participate in a conversation by commenting on a friend’s buzz or “liking” a buzz, further comments will push that buzz into your Gmail inbox. If you’re like me, that helps you keep track of these comments quickly and painlessly. For this reason, Buzz is brilliant.
What it doesn’t do
Buzz should not be confused for an aggregator like Google Reader. It will not pull in photos of your Flickr contacts for your perusal. It won’t pull in the tweets of people that you follow. If you happen to be following someone in Buzz who has linked their account to their Flickr account, then you’ll get to see photos, but otherwise, the only photos you’ll see there are your own. Here’s why that’s a bit of a problem: if Google wants us to maintain our social relationships in Buzz, they need to provide a way for it to act like a Twitter reader and a Flickr browser. I have existing relationships on those sites that I don’t want to lose just because I want the convenience of having Buzz in my inbox. As it is, if I’m visiting Twitter and Flickr anyway, why would I want the extra hassle of maintaining Buzz?
Why Buzz is bad
I have linked my Twitter and Flickr accounts and this very blog into Buzz. For the 40 people who follow me in Buzz, they’ll see my status posts, photos and blog entries show up in Buzz. Because the commenting is good (better than Twitter), they may be tempted to respond to me there. When you comment on one of my photos in Buzz, that comment does not end up on Flickr (and vice-versa). The same goes with Twitter. By commenting in Buzz, you’re removing yourself from the conversation on those other sites (my own blog included) and diminishing the value of my Flickr page, my Twitter feed and my personal blog.
How it’s worse than Twitter
I said that Buzz has better support for conversations than Twitter. This is true for most of the people I follow. Try following a celebrity in Buzz and you’ll see a different story. I followed Felicia Day and even though she only has 1000 followers (compared to 1.7 million followers in Twitter), there are constantly comments on the things she writes and posts (or are posted for her from other services). You can mute a post so that they won’t keep floating to the top and making your buzz feed useless, but I don’t want to do that for every post that a celebrity writes. I am interested in their thoughts, not the thoughts of their droves of commenters. In its current form, Buzz is a big failure for following people who reach more than a handful of followers.
All in all, it’s an interesting experiment. In a few weeks, it may go the way of Google Wave, but I don’t think it will. Like Google Talk, this is probably around to stay, for better or worse.