Google Buzz: The Big Misdirection

Google has introduced another platform. Well, maybe another product. Okay, perhaps another feature in Gmail. Surely, it must be another piece of Google beta spaghetti on the wall, no? No.

Google Buzz didn’t percolate in Google Labs, where laymen could try it out at their pleasure. It suddenly appeared in your inbox. Edward Ho, tech lead for Buzz explains the big idea:

Five years ago, Gmail was just email. Later we added chat and then video chat, both built right in, so people had choices about how to communicate from a single browser window.

Trust me, I didn’t lift this from the Microsoft court documents in the illegal product bundling trial. But if you ineptly launched a product, okay a platform, with underwhelming aesthetics, poor interaction design, overabundance of functionality but with little focus in the form of Google Wave and received more jokes than traction, what would you do for an encore? Why of course, you’d force feed it over a product, err, platform with 175 million users. Why wouldn’t you want to use Google Buzz within Google Gmail running in Google Chrome browser on Google Chrome OS powering a Google tablet? Everything in a “single browser window” indeed.

A nation of whiners

Now that they shifted their attention from the “big iPod touch,” geeks are divided on Buzz. Some are stuck in details. Jolie O’Dell asks in RWW: “In addition to creating ‘best guesses’ for who to friend and follow using Gmail & Google Talk, why doesn’t Google simply use Twitter OAuth and Facebook Connect to import existing friendships?” Like, “Why doesn’t Apple just allow Flash on iPhones and iPads?” Right.

Most jumped on Google’s appalling attempt to strong arm its way into unsuspecting Gmail users’ inboxes by automatically injecting Buzz into private email workflow and then making it very obscure to get rid of it. It takes a few steps, okay maybe a dozen or so steps, to re-privatize your follower list so that you don’t inadvertently expose your hitherto private Gmail life to the rest of the world. Obviously, if you were looking for design and interaction clarity in Google products, let alone personal data privacy, you are barking up the wrong Silicon Valley pole.

So Buzz received a harsh welcome in some quarters. There’s always that nagging question, now that Google is in a mad rush to Microsoftdom, is it hell bent on devouring all other social networks in its path to online domination?

Has Google become a startup killer?

According to many, with Buzz Google’s trying to kill Twitter. And Facebook. And FriendFeed. (Alright, FriendFeed was acquired last year by FaceBook so this is a double whammy.) And Yammer. And Yelp. And Foursquare. And Gowalla. And BlockChalk. And Yahoo! Updates. (Yes, I know, you can’t kill the undead.) And Jaiku. (Oops, Google already owns it.) And whatever Microsoft may introduce in 2011, or later.

However, the company that couldn’t make Orkut, Google Video, Latitude, Google Base, Knol, Google Catalog, Dodgeball, Google Answers and many other products successful may have a hard time killing off its competitors. Of course attention whores with conflicts of interest like Jason Calacanis already declared Buzz the winner: “Facebook is going to see their traffic get cut in half by Google Buzz.” Well, that settles it then.

The Big Misdirection

Why exactly did Google create Buzz anyway? According to Google’s Open Web Advocate Chris Messina:

This is a downpayment on where we’re going with the open, social web…

Yes, the open web. Where you could go tinker with a product’s source code openly and freely. Like you could with Buzz. What, you can’t? How about its parent Gmail? No, not open either? You could use Buzz without Google Profile, no? No choice there either? Confusing?

For what business reason would Google offer Buzz then? To shift most online activity to its unified platform so that it can make money from search/advertising, its sole cash cow, you might answer. Surely, Google’s search/ads business must then be open, no? No? Isn’t Google the most prominent champion of the “open web”? They made Android open, didn’t they? You could go tinker with the source code of what makes an Android phone attractive and meaningful, right? Like Gmail, Google Maps, Google Apps, Google Voice and so on? No? The crown jewels of the Android and Chrome OS kingdoms, the “open” alternative to the iPhone and iPad, are not open? Something’s wrong.

Now imagine if Microsoft or Apple did this. The blogosphere would have exploded with self-righteous indignation. But we already know Microsoft and Apple are evil. Google, the “Don’t be evil” company, obviously, is not.

Magic acts are entertaining only if you can’t spot the misdirection.

12 thoughts on “Google Buzz: The Big Misdirection

  1. Google is becoming the Microsoft of Theft. It doesn’t innovate but copy and finally take over from others. Because of its clout, it pretends to offer freebies and free services but in actual fact it seeks to defeat the ‘enemy’ by stealth and unfair competition. Beware of Greeks offering gifts! Google business model is based on adverts: the more blood it can sucks, the more zombies that are created who carve for freebies but never realize they will lose their soul to Google. In this respect, Google is more dangerous than Microsoft because of its power of seduction.

    Eric Schmidt believed that privacy can be trampled on with disdain because they have the power. One has to careful about the personal hypocrisy of Schmidt’s dismissive stance on privacy, because for about a year, Schmidt blacklisted CNET reporters from Google after the tech news company published an article with information about his salary, neighborhood, hobbies, and political donations — all obtained from Google searches. Schmidt’s dismissive statement on privacy is what one could expect the search giant to be moving towards doing a lot of evil which would be difficult to stop.

    How can Google be trusted with sensitive information when all they care about is to mine the golden lode of ads profits for their own selfish domination of the world’s information cow-dung heap?

    To hell with responsibility and caution. Ask Eric Schmidt why he thinks privacy is not important for Google’s spying activities. Because it an hindrance to their callous stake to the ads pie, which they have dominated.

    Just as the banks and financial institutions cannot be trusted to regulate themselves, so also Google should not be left to its own device. Its offering of freebies is an attempt to make millions of zombies who think anything free is the holy grail of generosity. Far from it; and remember how the banks also offered freebies and trapped many gullible people into their deathly grasp.

  2. Pseudo geeks now have another tetherball pole to play with in the social media playground. Beware the length of rope you use – it can come back and nail you. The playground is BIG and the audience has the patience and attention span of goldfish. One big lesson here is brand erosion. Death by beta is best accomplished by not paying attention to Q&A. If you DON’T know what I mean then you are already dead. Toyota.

  3. My biggest gripe with Buzz is that I STILL can’t tell if it’s a Project, a Product or a Platform, which is unfortunately indicative of Google working backwards from their culture vs. the consumer. Simply put, I just don’t think that this leads to better products, something I blogged about here:

    Google Buzz: Is it Project, Product or Platform?

    More to the point, it’s worth noting that both Google and Apple have learned from Microsoft’s chess gamesman-ship in the PC wars, although they seem to have reached very different conclusions.

    For Apple, the takeaway was everything’s a platform, win developers hearts/minds at all costs and create leverage/derivatives wherever practical.

    For Google, it seems to be that when you have a large enough installed base, no market is off limits.

    Which philosophy delights its combined constituency of consumers, developers, partners and investors? I’ll leave that for others to decide.

    Nice to see you writing again (and back on solid foods). Just kidding.



    • Yes, someone at Google, like Marissa Mayer, thought it was alright AND excellent business practice to graft Buzz over Gmail simply for expediency. Now, we hear they may separate the two. But not only the damage is done, but we also know that there’s not enough deep thinking about and appreciation of the customer experience at all at Google. It’s naive beyond belief, for a $150B company.

  4. Google is more like the Microsoft of 15 years ago than anyone would care to admit. In fact they’ve gone Microsoft a step or two further in perfecting their case of corporate ADD. Nothing is finished before moving onto the next thing. Note how long it took for them to remove the beta label from Gmail — and they did it finally not because they changed (let alone, perfected) anything but apparently for no other good reason than they had hit some internal limit on unfinished projects.

    Still, I’m a little less worried about Google than some. They are moving in so many disparate directions at once, I fail to see the plan. Like the Microsoft of 15 years ago, they seem to think that placing a bet on every horse is a plan. And we know how that worked out.

  5. Great to see another post.

    When will the web folks, our modern on-line consciousness, start calling Google over their real crime; leveraging their monopoly in online advertising to enter other markets. Just because they fail more often than not at it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be punished. One day they might hire someone with a design clue or bring in a usability team and bring focus to bear on one of their products.

    Fortunately, like Microsoft, Google really don’t understand Apple, how and why Apple succeed. They are dominated by talented engineers and algorithms not interactions. Google could certainly never build the iPad from a blank sheet of paper.

    • It’s unlikely that an outsider could come in and be given appropriate powers to reverse Google product design priorities, as I don’t think the upper management cares about it much.

    • Actually, I don’t think Apple built it from a blank sheet of paper either. There’s some electronics involved in there.

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