The big news this week is, of course, the rollout of Google Buzz – the not-quite-Twitter, not-quite-Facebook tool that Google hopes will replace both. This isn’t an area in which Google has had a great deal of success – Orkut, their only other social-networking service, has caught on in India and Brazil but virtually nowhere else – and since Google has gobbled up large sections of the email, online video, and advertising sectors, it makes sense that they’d turn their gaze to social networking next.
The debut was not, as they say, an unqualified success. Many users were unprepared for the rather cavalier way that Google bandied about the email addresses of their friends and family. Others wondered why service existed in the first place. It generates entirely too many emails, especially for a service so closely tied to Gmail. And it doesn’t seem to offer much, at this point, that Twitter or Facebook doesn’t already.
I’ve been using Buzz for two days now, and at this point Google’s decision to marry it so tightly to Gmail seems a misstep. By and large, most people don’t use email to keep in touch with their friends and family; they use it for more pedestrian communication. So when I started up Buzz, sure, it imported my friend’s emails – but I also found that I was automatically following three people who had recently inquired about a room I was subletting, and the admissions officer at a large New England university. (Worse, these people were following me!) By contrast, on Twitter I follow people likeNathan Fillion and the FakeAPStylebook – with whom I have never, and sadly will never, exchange any sort of correspondence.
So though I won’t deny that Buzz is kinda fun, it’s tough to imagine it totally replacing Twitter or Facebook. However – they say that necessity is the mother of invention, but I don’t think that’s quite true; generally, things get invented accidentally, and a good use for them is found later. The inventor of the Slinky, Clay Watson, was busily engaged in developing a spring that would help stabilize the payload of ships; it wasn’t until he knocked one of his working models off the workbench and watched as it skittered away that its potential as a toy occurred to him. Likewise, the inventors of Twitter never dreamed it would be used to coordinate protests in Iran. And it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if a use for Buzz develops that isn’t immediately clear, and in eighteen months we can’t imagine how we ever lived without it.
Update: Only twenty minutes or so after I posted this the news came through that Google is indeed mulling separating Buzz from Gmail.