Since everyone else is doing it, here are my two cents on this whole little fiasco. And I’ll preface it by saying that, like a lot of people, I like Google, usually. Gmail is a superb mail client, and while I don’t use them so much any more, Google Reader and iGoogle are excellent at what they do. They usually get stuff like this right, which is why it’s a surprise to see them getting this so wrong. Here are some points, then:
- First off, for me, the biggest flaw is the fact that email integration is not optional. It’s not merely the fact that it appears as an extra link (with a bracketed number of unread items) in your sidebar. That, I actually like. I’m all for integrating different services into one place – at least, integrating from my perspective. I’d quite like having my email, Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal friends and a variety of RSS feeds readable in one place (it’s why I went in for the whole Netvibes thing a little while back, though I did end up moving away from it after a while, and never did get round to writing my planned Micro Mart article about portal homepages). I don’t want them all talking to one-another, though – that way can lead to potential disaster. Anyway, the point is, I don’t mind an extra tab in my email that shows me a Twitter-esque status updates feed. The problem, though, is the fact that in addition to that, updates from Buzz get sent to your inbox. And not just updates from your friends – I was getting mail items when someone I didn’t know commented on the status of someone I did. That sh t’s annoying enough from Facebook without Google themselves getting in on the act. These updates were even being sent to my iPhone via IMAP. Not on. There are ways to stop it – but setting up a filter to exclude them is a workaround, not a Google-built option. Simply put, intrusion into your mailbox is not something you should have to fudge your way out of – you should be able to turn it off.
- Something else that’s come in for criticism is the way it automatically assumes who you want to follow. Now, I’ve never used the option the likes of Facebook have for finding your “friends” from your email contacts, and I’m sure I’m not alone. There’s a very good reason – I just don’t trust them to work well enough. And sure enough, Buzz managed to annoy me by being presumptuous. Here’s the thing, Buzz – there might be names in your inbox who you’ve mailed/chatted to a lot in the past, but don’t any more. And really, you should notice the fact that I haven’t emailed or chatted with my ex-girlfriend in close to a year, and therefore not automatically include her in the list. Alright?
- Plus, of course, there are the massive privacy concerns. Unlike Twitter or Facebook, where you’re aware that everyone can see who you’re following/friends with, Buzz has already started telling people who your most emailed/chatted to people are.
- What’s perhaps the most staggering, for a company that’s usually so savvy about internet trends, is the way they’ve completely ignored some of the biggest controversies that have damaged Facebook’s reputation. Did they just miss what happened with Beacon? The lesson to be learned from the various (usually subsequently corrected) failures on Facebook’s part is that people want to opt-in, not opt-out. You can’t say, “Here’s this new thing we’ve set up, we’ve already made it so you’re a part of it, now go and read a load of tech blogs about other people figuring out how it works and what it actually does, even though it’s already doing it on your behalf”. You need to say, “We’ve got this new thing, here’s what it does and how it works. Do you want to start using it?”
- Already, as Matt Sheret has pointed out, people are making the mistake of sending updates from Twitter over to Buzz (just as we all thought would be clever to do on LiveJournal, or Facebook, before – mostly – thinking better of it). This isn’t how cross-site integration should work – as mentioned above, it should be from the reader‘s perspective. I’d quite like to see Twitter on a tab in my mailbox, or Facebook updates in my Twitter client – it’s one less site to click through to when I’m doing my “rounds” – but I don’t want to read the same thing from the same person twice!
There’s definitely scope for Buzz to work – a Google-powered status update-based social network that links in with your email isn’t a flawed concept – but at the moment the execution, and the manner in which it’s been rolled out, are deeply flawed. It should be possible to use it – I’d certainly like to – without it being so inextricably linked with my inbox, contacts and everything else. It’s true that almost everything that people are complaining about can be turned off with a little digging – but crucially, they’re on by default. And by now, no-one with Google’s experience and expertise should think that’s a good idea. For now, then, I’ve switched it off entirely.