Is Google Buzz Dying or Just Waiting for the Cavalry to Arrive?

Recently we’ve learned two interesting things Google-related.  One, Google Wave is dead.  And two, Google is working on a comprehensive social networking platform, supposedly to be called Google.Me, to compete with Facebook.  Let’s think about this a moment.

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I think Wave is an interesting application that could have become a useful tool, had it not become the latest Google project to fall off the wall due to an complete lack of post-launch support.  I’m not a fan Google’s “throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks” approach to application deployment.  I’d also venture that the success rate of apps launched that way is about the same as my success rate in getting Disqus to accurately compute Reactions to my blog posts.  Low, really low.

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Google must know that approach doesn’t really work, given the complete opposite approach it took with Google Buzz.  Google bolted Buzz onto Gmail accounts, guaranteeing a large user base, even if portions of that use base don’t know anything about Buzz.  I think the fact that Google launched Buzz in this aggressive manner is very telling.  It tells me that Google really wanted Buzz to succeed.  It also makes me wonder if Buzz has a more important purpose than serving as the Twitter clone-of-the-week.  Like serving as the advance guard for a greater invasion.

First of all, isn’t it interesting that Buzz has been around for so long and the average Facebook fanatic still couldn’t tell you what Buzz does and how you use it?  Facebook (big time) and Twitter (supposedly) hit the big time when they penetrated beyond the Nerd Kingdom into the larger realm.  So I think we can stipulate that to be successful Google Buzz- or Google.Me- will need to do so as well.  So why does Buzz seem like the Masons, all cloaked in mystery and whatnot?  Heck, I’m not sure I know what Buzz really does, and I’m interested in this sort of thing.  How little do you think the average Facebook fanatic knows about Buzz?  I’m thinking nothing.

If Google had merely tossed Buzz against the wall, the way it did Wave, Buzz would already be dead.

What’s really going on here is that Google is just treading water pending the great (or not, we’ll see) unveiling of Google.Me.  In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Buzz was merely an advance guard, used to set up camp in our browsers until it is replaced by the (Google hopes) mighty occupation forces of Google.Me.

Either way, I am profoundly ambivalent about Buzz.  Google.Me?  There is great potential for Google to build a better Facebook.  Facebook in many ways is broken, hobbled by its back-end and its origin as a place for college kids to hook up (“Poke” someone? Seriously?).  The harder part will be nurturing the application once it is live.  That is not Google’s strong point.  The hardest part, which could be an insurmountable problem, is getting the non-nerd herd at Facebook to migrate to Google.Me.  I’d say the odds are long, but not impossible.  Personally, as long as I can push my Google.Me content into Facebook (not a sure thing by any means), I’d use Google.Me if it were a more robust platform.  I still miss Pownce, but maybe that’s just me.

As an aside, Google also needs to push this stuff into Google Apps much faster.  Another example of Google’s haphazard development style.

In the meantime, I’d be inclined to ignore Buzz completely, but several people I know and whose opinions I respect seem to like it.  Maybe they always pull for the underdog, I don’t know.  Louis Gray thinks Buzz will survive.  Thomas Hawk also likes it a lot, but it could be the yang for his Flickr angst.

At the end of the day, I keep wondering why Google doesn’t use more glue when it tosses these applications up there.  Maybe in the case of Buzz, stealth was or perhaps became the plan. 

I guess I’ll wait and see what comes (or goes) next.

14 responses to “Is Google Buzz Dying or Just Waiting for the Cavalry to Arrive?

  1. Hi Kent, first time visitor/reader. Good post.I particularly agree with your statement about Google Apps. I just recently added wave to my google apps domain where I think it could have done better(still not good but better). Similarly, I have to assume that if Buzz gets added to Google Apps in this fall's upgrade to the Google Apps platform (access to many more google applications like reader, picasa, blogger, etc., from within Google Apps) the uptake of Buzz may be much larger. In particular, I keep seeing a lot of Universities/Colleges going Google. The school my daughter goes to in a few weeks uses Google Apps. So you get that crowd but also Non-Profits and businesses in the mix as well. Imagine a social network that has multiple layers (intra domain, private, public, etc) built into it from the get go.

  2. Jannik Lindquist

    Good observations – but why ignore Buzz? Obviously, you too think it will survive and you say, you are interested in “this sort of thing”. You frown at the college kids at Facebook – and yet you join them in brushing of Buzz as being incomprehensible :-)

  3. Fair questions. I have slowly capitulated to FB because that's where the people are. I think the platform is lacking, for the reasons stated, but I find myself using it more and more. The filters (to filter out Farmville, etc.) allow me to better control my stream than I can at Twitter (which is the one I really don't get). I just think Google could create an application that is more elegant and flexible than FB.The thing with Buzz is that I don't think Google has promoted it. Sure, some influential users (like Louis G.) have, but that's not enough to penetrate into the non-Nerddom. For example, Louis shared this post in reader, with a comment. I replied with a comment, but (a) I don't think our comments are in the same thread/application, and (b) I don't think (but I'm not sure) that either comment is via Buzz. If I can't figure this out, how can someone less tech-centric?All of which also leads me to fear that when Google.Me is released, it will be another Apps like mishmash that will frustrate those who aren't willing to tackle the learning curve.

  4. Agreed. Google Apps has been severely hurt by Google's (a) focus on collaboration, which should be a secondary concern to consistency (personally I believe the percentage of people who really, really care about collaboration via Google's various apps is microscopic) and internal features (Apps looks thrown together), and (b) looooong delay in getting other apps included.Sites is so horrible and undocumented as to be worthless. I was thinking about setting up Wave within our family's Apps account, but now I probably won't bother.I'd probably pay for Apps of Google would address these issues, but I have no hope that it will. It's too busy trying to find the next big thing- and looking in relatively mature spaces with embedded leaders (like Facebook).

  5. Kent,Buzz is basically Google's clone of FriendFeed, complete with all its faults – noisy, complex, kinda fugly. On top of that, it was presumptively forced on Gmail users, causing immediate ill will. It also suffers from a major flaw that haunts all sites that try to aggregate all a user's social media output: context conflicts. That's why robotweets from services like FourSquare and Gowalla are so irritating to so many, as you and I have debated here. Indeed many of the complaints I've seen about Buzz from those who tried it focus on the fact that it has become a dumping ground for Twitter feeds. Buzz has become one big vat of out- of-context data. I don't have much faith that Google will ever get social media right … Unless they're homing in on the Brazilian market.

  6. Well-said Dwight. While you and I disagree on Four Square, we agree on lots of other tech-related stuff, including your FF comparison. Contexts is important but hard, unless you want to manually create content for each service.I think I turned off my Tweet to Buzz dump, but I use Buzz so rarely that I don't know for certain.As I noted in an earlier comment, I fear that Google.Me will end up a mishmashed mess like Google Apps (if another mishmash of such epic proportions is possible). But I hope not.

  7. Kent – I completely agree with you on this post. I have tried Buzz, but don't really have a use for it. I would however use it a lot if they incorporated in Apps, and have been waiting for this for months (along with many other applications). I hope Google Me gets it right. I used a lot of Google Services (Gmail, Youtube, Picasa) that could make it easy to adopt, but they have to get it right from the start, or without anyone else there, it will fail for me just as Buzz did. I also agree – it would be nice to see Google MARKET an application. If they want something to succeed, and want massive adoption, what about actually looking to market it and not “hope it sticks”.

  8. Google seems to have a potpourri of development going on. What I can't tell is what sort of a design protocol it has. So many of these apps were bought, that it is inevitable that they start out looking wildly different. What I don't like is the apparent unwillingness to take those apps and redesign them into a semi-elegant compatible whole. Even what's in Apps now looks and acts very different. One small example- you can customize some of the apps (color, layout, etc.) but not others. Google has the resources and the brainpower, so there must be hurdles I can't see preventing this.They better get it right before they launch Google.Me, though. Because we know the reaction will be extreme in one direction or the other. Nobody, even the old media, takes a reasoned approach to anything these days. So Google needs the inevitable exaggeration to be in its favor.I think the race will be callable within the first 3 days after launch. And I hope Google learned from the Buzz launch.

  9. Jannik Lindquist

    First of all: It's a myth that Google is particularly inept at social media. All of their products suffer from the same basic flaws: lack of coherent design and several Google-products competing for attention in the same area. Buzz is actually one of the best designed Google-products and now that they have killed Wave, there is no competing Google-product. All that is holding Buzz back is the tight integration with Gmail. Because of that integration, Buzz is currently useless for interaction with your real-life contacts as nobody wants to leave FB for Buzz when it's primary interface is in Gmail. For that reason, there are not many active Buzz-users, currently – but a lot of the active Buzz-users are *very* active. As most of them are early adopters and very tech-interested, Buzz is currently an outstanding tech-resource.

  10. Jannik Lindquist

    “Hoping it sticks” obviously means “hoping users will adopt it”. The problem with the spaghetti-strategy is not the “hoping it sticks”-part but the “Let's throw a lot of stuff at the wall”-part. One of the most powerful forms of marketing at present is social media and Buzz/Google Me is definitely best promoted through word-of-mouth rather than through Google clumsingly hyping it in the media.

  11. With Buzz, maybe, but not with Google.Me. if they truly want Google.Me to be a FB alternative (and I think this is an almost impossible task, even though I hope they can do it), they need to get the herd to start moving reasonably quickly, and that's really hard to do by word of mouth, particularly with the very important non-tech population.Having said that, Google is the media, so it has the ability to send the message directly to the herd. As long as they don't stuff it into Gmail again.

  12. I'm not convinced Google is good at the social media thing, but I very much agree with the design/gmail part. The biggest reason I don't really take a hard look at Buzz is because it's bound to gmail, and I use Apps for my mail (and thus can't get it from my primary account).

  13. Great article. I, too have been ambivalent about Google Buzz. On the one hand it’d be interesting to see how it works if it really caught on and if everyone you know is using it. On the other hand, it might be completely unnecessary, in which case it would be under-used and maybe eventually forgotten.

    What really irks me is that Buzz was released 10 months ago as of this writing and Google STILL has not implemented Buzz within Google Apps for Domains. They’ve really dropped the ball on that one considering how many more potential Buzz users they could have.

  14. Brian Hurd

    i think this article is very good.  i think all of the very intelligent commentary is greatly discredited with this comment, and this comment alone:

     ” Facebook in many ways is broken, hobbled by its back-end and its origin
    as a place for college kids to hook up (“Poke” someone? Seriously?). ” 

    Let me tell you why:

    a) Facebook revenue streams are based off of uninhibited data sharing and the exponential gold mine that is social networking.  The back end is not “hobbling”.  It is the the only thing keeping the user from disabling sharing, and directly affecting revenue.  I think they should make the “view what how others see you” feature more prevalent, a feature that allows you to see exactly how a specific user sees your profile, because that’s the only thing users care about; hiding shit from their kids, parents, girlfriend, etc.

    b) Facebook had to find a universal way into the lives of its end users.  What better way than through college social networks.  What better way to create very demographic specific marketing for its core revenue stream (advertisers) than regional information that includes specific data about educational background that is the most direct correlation with income.  People proudly list their employers and graduate schools.  How beautiful to guarantee a client that every big 5 (i mean four) accounting firm employee on facebook will see your ad 15 times in passing.  brilliant.  in fact, will make you a billionaire.