Social Media: Bursting The Buzz Bubble

Published on March 8th, 2010 in: The Internets |

By Less Lee Moore


POP! by N1Nj4

It’s been almost a month since Google launched Buzz, its bid for competition in a post-social media world. The buzz about Buzz, however, is that it’s been more of a bust than a boon.

Although some have expressed their approval of Buzz, even “favoring it over Twitter or Facebook,” others seem like they drank the Buzz Kool-Aid, calling it “brilliant. . . like ground-breaking, game-changing brilliant,” within a mere 24 hours of its release.

Not everyone was so enthused. Blogger Fugitivus became justifiably enraged about Buzz after her abusive ex-husband was apparently added, without her consent, to her list of Buzz contacts. (Eventually, her post was marked private, but you can read the original text here.)

It seems like the world’s biggest understatement to say that Google “did not anticipate the strong protest over user privacy the company has faced in the week since Buzz launched” after taking a look at the search results obtained by Googling “Google Buzz Privacy.”

Yet, Google seemed to be listening to the outcry; within two days of the launch, they made several rounds of changes, including a shift from “auto-follow” to “auto-suggest.”

This was not enough for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which filed a privacy complaint on February 16, with one concern being the “opt out” instead of “opt in” nature of Buzz.

For others, the brouhaha was an overreaction, just further proof that nothing on the Internet is truly free; apparently the cost is a lack of privacy.

With all of this negative publicity, one forgets what the proposed advantage of Buzz was supposed to be in the first place, a tool to “help users cut through the noise of social networking.”

Still, after the MySpace versus Facebook versus Twitter wars of the last few years, many users are simply battle-weary. Do we really expect to find a site to replace everything else? Is the idea that “one site fits all” an unrealistic (or unnecessary) one?

Google took a big gamble on this on when arming itself against Twitter and Facebook. A PC World article states:

“As a Facebook user, the last thing I need in my life is another social networking service. I have lots of friends–business and personal–on Facebook. It plays an important role in my home and work life. What I don’t need is for my friends to start dividing themselves into Facebook users and Buzz users. I want all my friends on just one service.”

A slightly different perspective appears in this article from Media Post:

“Twitter and Facebook give people a choice about providing their email log-ins. Additionally, Facebook doesn’t consider people friends unless both parties agree. And on Twitter, following somebody doesn’t necessarily signify a relationship. In many cases, many Twitter users follow other people because they’ve come across their name through the media, follow Friday, or other users.”

The latest word on Buzz would indicate that Google knew there were major privacy gaps in the platform, but went ahead anyway (gee, like THAT’S something new).

TechCrunch notes that:

“. . . the reason Google needed to establish its own social stream pronto is that links passed through social sharing are beginning to rival search as a primary driver of traffic for many sites. Part of Google’s prowess stems from the fact that it is the largest referrer of traffic to many other Websites. It doesn’t want to lose that status to social sharing streams such as Facebook or Twitter.”

That’s fair enough from a business perspective, but the article also posits that Buzz is a necessary evil because, “independent of any pressure it may place on Twitter, Google needs to have its own realtime micro-messaging communications system.”

The Internet is tricky, and not in the way that Ted Stevens might think. Developers cannot just assume that because people utilize MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and/or even Buzz, that they want everything to be available to anyone at any time. Consider the careful crafting that goes into the development of some online personas (and not just for privacy concerns). The Internet is nothing if not a good way to pretend to be someone else.

Even if you are not in fear of an abusive ex like Fugitivus, there is such a thing as too much information and too many connections. Traffick encapsulates this ambivalence by calling Buzz “[a]nother step towards the gradual loss of privacy and towards making unconscious decisions to overshare, probably.”

The February 2 episode of The Colbert Report addressed these issues before Buzz was even unleashed with its bit on Blippy, a site that posts real-time updates about purchases made by users; and I Just Made Love.com, which allows people to post when, where, and how. Colbert summed up this oversharing with the hilarious “Congnoscor Ergo Sum,” or “I am known, therefore I am,” going even further into the trenches of the social networking war with an extended rant on the startlingly real un-reality of the Internet:

“Better yet, folks, we can combine them all into one site called ‘knowny’ which records every interaction, every movement of every person on earth and posts them online like a storm of random data points that shouts out to the blind, indifferent universe, ‘WE EXIST! WE EXIST! PLEASE LET THIS MEAN SOMETHING!'”
—Transcript from The No Fact Zone

I, for one, am definitely NOT comfortable with a “realtime micro-messaging communications system” being a requirement of human existence.

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