What the Buzz? Get Me Off This Crazy Thing!!!

Google's Buzz, which adds Social Networking features to their popular GMail service, is a bit too Alpha and uncontrolled for me to participate in it right now.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Google's Buzz, which adds Social Networking features to their popular GMail service, is a bit too Alpha and uncontrolled for me to participate in it right now.

So yesterday I was anticipating, with much excitement, of getting "Buzzed". After watching the demo and reading everyone's coverage of Google's social media features for GMail, I was ready to jump ship from Twitter into possibly something better.

But as with the Google Wave hype of 2009, that excitement faded very quickly into frustration. In Buzz's case, it morphed into full blown anger and rejection.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

First, it started with the waiting. I wanted Buzz. I wanted Buzz. I wanted Buzz. When is Buzz going to be turned on in my account? When? When? WHEN?

And then it came. Oh boy it came.

The first thing I noticed was that I was already following people -- the most common people that I already GMail with. That's cool. And people were beginning to follow me, and that number was starting to increase significantly with the passing of hours, as millions of GMail users were getting the Buzz.

Having no guidance on Buzz-etiquette on reciprocal following, I only had Twitter and FaceBook conventions to follow, so I went with a merger of the two philosophies. I decided to follow everyone who was starting to follow me.

Having replied to a number of Buzzes from my friends through the GMail web interface, I started doing a bit of my own Buzzing. I posted some updates about a crazy bacon superbowl party I attended over the weekend,  and tested out the photo attachment features. Cool.

Had I stayed within the realm of my "actual" sphere of influence and email contacts, I probably would have been fine. But then I started looking at Twitter and saw what several other people were saying about the service on Buzz.

On Twitter, I happen to follow a very large amount of people, as of today over 430. Among them are prominent members of what I like to call the "New Media Weberati", folks who are influencers and are high volume/high traffic Twitterers and Bloggers about technology. Following these people helps me stay abreast of what is going on and to stay relevant.

Twitter, however, does not function like Buzz. In Twitter, you voluntarily follow someone, and then start to get their direct updates in a serialized fashion, like a message bus. For example, I follow @ldignan and he follows me back as @jperlow.

When @ldignan posts a Twitter update, I just get what he says or repeats ("retweets") what others say. I don't get what other people say directly to @ldignan, unless I am also following those people. Twitter and the TweetDeck client I use to interact with the service is also a separate application from my GMail email, and I can turn it on and off at will and it's not particularly invasive.

Almost overnight, all the top Twitterers and New Media Weberati became instant Buzz celebrities with thousands of followers. Case in point, guys like Mahalo.com founder Jason Calacanis and uber-tech blogger and Twitterer Robert Scoble.

So last night I noticed this particular post by Calacanis on Buzz, where he effectively spells the death knell for FaceBook. So I replied to this Buzz, telling him that his stupid pre-iPad launch stunt diminished his political capital with his fellow Weberati and he should quit on predicting FaceBook's death spiral while he was ahead.

This in retrospect was an extremely bad thing for me to do. Not because I particularly care about what Calacanis thinks about me and what I have to say, but because my life was about to be made miserable by Buzz.

In Buzz, if you start to follow someone outside your regular sphere of email contacts, and you then REPLY to one of those Buzz messages, you will then get an AVALANCHE of updates from that person and all the people who replied to that particular Buzz, particularly if that person is one of the most popular people on Buzz.

So predictably, because of Calacanis's popularity, he starts getting dozens of replies by the minute, and it becomes like a runaway train, because Buzz updates in real time. His Buzz post is now pegged the top of my Buzz feed and now it's hijacking all my Buzz activity. So I "Mute" the Buzz. I figure that's the end of it. It's not.

The rest of the evening was a comedy of errors, slapstick exercise in trying to leap off an oncoming train wreck. After I "Muted" the buzz as well as "Unfollowed" Calacanis, his Buzz keeps coming back to the top of my Buzz feed. AAAAAARRRRRRGGGH!

Why? Well I suppose because I replied to him, and Buzz still thought I needed to see EVERYONE ELSE'S REPLIES. I presumed this was a bug related to the fact I had a reply in his Buzz. At the time I posted the reply, there was no way to remove/edit a reply to someone's buzz [EDIT: This appears to have been resolved by Feb 12th with a Google Buzz update]. The Buzz avalanche was now out of control and I had to turn the service off.

By morning, this avalanche effect seemed to have been taken care of by Google. I was no longer seeing the Calacanis fanboy FaceBook death pile-on. But then I heard something that made my hair stand up. It was from my wife, yelling from her office.

"Jason, who is this Calacanis idiot in my Buzz?"

Me: @#$%!

See, if other people are "Following" you (my wife was deemed an automatic follower by virtue of her email frequency to me in GMail) they see all the Buzzes in which you reply to someone, even if they don't follow that person. And now they have to mute those Buzzes. It's like taking the worst aspects of Twitter and FaceBook and combining it into some mutant Social Media information firehose which you have no control over.

Are you beginning to understand why Buzz could very quickly become a complete mess? And I haven't even gotten into the mobile device aspects.

I certainly understand the potential of Buzz, as I do for Wave. But Buzz should not be treated like Twitter, and certainly not FaceBook. With Twitter, you can isolate it from the rest of your workflow and only see what you want to see. With FaceBook, you have to give people explicit permission to interact with you or view your updates by the "Friending" process.

Buzz attempts to bridge the functionality of both by integrating these updates by your sphere of influence/contacts into your e-Mail workflow. However, unlike Twitter and FaceBook, where you can have hundreds or thousands of "Friends" or "Followers" it is probably not a good practice to expand your "Buzzshphere" beyond your frequent or semi-frequent email contacts list, otherwise it will very quickly become overwhelming.

And when it comes to the super high volume guys like the Ashton Kutchers or the Calacanises or the Scobles and Arringtons, stay the hell away. Leave these people on Twitter where they can be compartmentalized. I suggest that if Google wants us to be able to interact with these folks, we need to be able to have "Sort Views" for the high-frequency and high-reply volume Buzzers, just as we have the ability to create sort groups in FaceBook today.

Is Buzz useful or is it a Alpha-Grade distraction? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

More Coverage of Google Buzz:

Editorial standards