On 9 February Google launched Buzz, its new social media portal, integrated within Gmail. Since its announcement Buzz has been the topic of a multitude of blog posts, and it seems the jury is still out on whether this Twitter rival has the potential for success.
The portal differs from Twitter in a number of ways but most obviously Buzz has no character limit, as opposed to Twitter’s rigid 120 characters. Twitter is also very simple: if you have a public account, your tweets go to anyone who is following you; Buzz is not that simple. There can be public or private buzzes, and Google plans to have buzzes for enterprise and educational users, allowing public buzzes to only be available within your company or school.
With a high percentage of users accessing social media platforms on the move, it is no surprise that Google Buzz can be used on an iPhone or Android-based web browser. It contains a GPS feature, allowing the program to find a location nearest to you it thinks you would like to visit. Mobile users can also post content to Buzz using voice commands.
The good, bad and downright ugly have been reported, but the biggest question raised was concerning the issue of privacy within Buzz. With the privacy settings initially set to public by default, this meant every profile was open to access, and potentially follow, via search engines.
Over the weekend, Google announced significant changes to Buzz, responding to the criticism over privacy. Google moved away from the system in which Buzz automatically sets you up to follow the people you email and chat with most. Instead, they have adopted an auto-suggest model, in which you are shown your friend list with an option to de-select people before publishing the list. While a full opt-in model would be less likely to result in inadvertent disclosures of private information, this is a significant step forward.
The security problems arose because Google attempted to overcome its market disadvantage in competing with Twitter and Facebook by making a secondary use of user information. Google leveraged information gathered in Gmail with Buzz, and set a default to sharing your email contacts to maximize uptake of the service. In the process, the privacy of Google users was overlooked and ultimately compromised.
We don’t imagine too many Twitter users will be ditching their Tweets to exclusively Buzz, but add better collaboration with Twitter and Facebook, and Google Buzz could get very interesting indeed. Watch this space.