May 08, 2010

Why I am Using Google Buzz as An Alternative to Facebook

The Internet is a big place, and there are a lot of opportunities for me to find places to spend time. But I am increasingly spending my time in Google Buzz. Google Buzz made sense to me from the first day it was launched, and it continues to improve. This is not a surprise to those of you who have been using the service in the last few months, but I thought I would explain why I am choosing to devote more of my social networking activity there, and why I think it is critical that the product succeed.

I often hear people call me a "power user" of Buzz, if there is such a thing. I've been called an active power user of other great products, including Google Reader and FriendFeed for a few years now, so I can't fight the label. What this does mean is that I get an opportunity to engage with a greater number of people than most, and I get more feedback on data that I share than most. But I hope this also means that I am working to make the experience I help provide in Buzz a better one, not just for me, but for all those people who are impacted by my activity there - whether you are reading the shared content provided, whether you run into my comments from various others, or even if you are a content provider who has seen visitors to your site come from Buzz thanks to my recommendations.

As social networkers, solicitations for our attention and time from various networks are constant. Various friends of ours may participate in one network, and some in others. Some Web services may make it easy to provide short updates, and other platforms make it easy to share longer thoughts. Some Web services are dedicated to specific use cases for rich media - be it videos, photos or audio. Each of us has to choose where we spend our time - and whether we think that our actions are being seen by the right people at the right time in the right context. We also need to think about whether our participating in a specific place is an endorsement of the platform, the community or the company providing the service.

For me, it is important that a social network where I want to spend time:
  1. Doesn't try to limit what I can share, in terms of content type or length.
  2. Makes the content that I share open and discoverable by anyone.
  3. Has a community of similar people interested in similar things.
  4. Has an intelligent community willing to discuss new ideas and technology.
  5. Is led by a sharp team committed to improving the platform.
Given the above, I am also separating what I see as "tools" and "communities".

For example: I think Twitter is a fantastic tool, and it is one of the best tools for sending short updates as a broadcast medium to share links and to communicate with others, in public. But it is not a community where I want to spend a lot of time. Its very limits in terms of characters, and the inability to share rich media in line are severe limitations. I believe Twitter is much like a dial tone for short-message social networking, and is as necessary as an e-mail address, but it is not a platform where I want to spend a lot of time.

Similarly, Facebook is a necessary evil. The vast network is not a place where I want to spend a lot of time. It is, however, a place where my family and other close friends choose to operate, so I can quickly glance at their activity there and be updated. But my visits there are brief and superficial, as I do not participate in their viral gaming platform, and do not rally around events, causes, and fan pages.

In 2008 especially, and through the first half of 2009, I thought that answer was FriendFeed. FriendFeed offered a major alternative to limited social networking. The ability to grab all my updates in one place, and follow my friends' updates in the same network, was a game changer. It was the first to get aggregation right, add smart filters, intelligent search, lists, real-time and much more. The community on FriendFeed, was fantastic, and many good people still use it. But momentum on the site dragged, and the sale to Facebook pretty much confirmed what many thought - that it would never achieve its potential. Still a fantastic site with great features, it's practically been abandoned by its core development team and left to coast.

Google Buzz offers the same potential FriendFeed once had, but is driven by a company that appears committed to making it succeed. There are regular updates to Buzz. I have seen some of the sharpest engineers on Google working to make this a success, and the community regularly has interesting discussions on a wide variety of topics. Rather than take potshots at the Buzz team for missing features I once enjoyed at FriendFeed, I trust they know of the current product gaps, and are pushing them through a rigorous development cycle.

Meanwhile, the other major players in this space aren't going the way I want. Twitter is becoming a more robust and extensible platform, but they seem married to their limitations in terms of content. Facebook has added many FriendFeed-like features, but they have also acted in a way that makes me uncomfortable in terms of changing the rules of privacy in the middle of the game, while also locking away other pieces of content that should, in my mind, be public. In my position as somebody who manages Facebook pages for multiple clients, I could never delete my account (and leave them rudderless), but simply expect that all my data there will be discoverable and public and searchable, despite their promises to the contrary.

The world of social networking is not a zero-sum game. For Buzz to succeed does not mean that either of the other networks have to fail. In fact, it doesn't even mean that Buzz has to be the biggest network on the planet. But it does mean that it should have the potential to be the best. I need a powerful aggregation tool that watches my activity on Google Reader and native blogs, but also offers the option to share photos and videos in a public way. Buzz does that. I need a powerful tool that lets me find friends' updates from around the Web and engage with them in a central location. Buzz does that.

Many people have voiced concern about Google being a large company that has an incredible amount of our data already, or is a platform for many of the applications and Web services we use every day. While this is true, the tremendous amount of openness I have seen from the company and its employees on this network and on others is something unparalleled by any of its competitors. These employees, many of whom I consider acquaintances and friends now, share the same ideals I do - working to expand open standards and keep us in control of our data.

I do not want a world where the only social networks available are Facebook and Twitter. I don't trust Microsoft or Yahoo! to do a good enough job to provide a real alternative, and I don't think Apple wants to. LinkedIn won't transform overnight, and Plaxo is not a candidate. Cisco and other companies aren't even close. So Google provides us the only real alternative to these two networks, and looks to be on the right path, talking openly about privacy, data security, and openness.

I am committed to using the best tools for the job. I am not paid by any of the companies I mentioned, and don't expect to be. I am increasingly using Buzz instead of FriendFeed, and have not been attracted to use Facebook more in the ensuing months. Yes, I have many ideas for Buzz to improve, and I have shared with them some of those ideas. But even as they continue to slave away at their code and make the product place better and better, I will keep sharing and discussing solid content there. You can find me at