Tag: facebook


Why Google Buzz is a huge deal

Today, Google announced the release of their new product, Google Buzz.


Looking at just the features offered in this video, it appears to be nothing more than a Facebook News Feed clone with Gmail integration. But don’t be fooled: Google Buzz has the potential to totally disrupt social networking as we know it today, and to do it for the better, for the sole reason of its open nature.

Online social networking has been a repetition of the same pattern since the mid-1990s: companies offering “walled-garden” networks offering cool new ways to connect with others – as long as they buy into the same network. It’s great for business, as users are better attractors of customers than any cool new feature could ever be. The operator then owns that social interaction medium between the people who come to rely upon it. We saw it happen with AOL. We saw it in the early 2000’s with the advent of blogging, as the most successful personal blogs were the ones hosted on social communities such as Livejournal, Xanga and Blogger. We moved on to MySpace (come on, admit it… we all can share in the shame!) and then Facebook, and Twitter has long passed the point of being a toy for early adopters, as it has become a tool of the masses.

But these sites – these closed networks – lock users into using their system for communication. This is in stark contrast with our real life social network – the completely fluid and decentralized manner in which we interact. This social network belongs to us, and cannot be monopolized by another. There is no tangible constraint that keeps me from interacting with someone else in one way or another, only issues like distance and language, things which are decreasingly important as technology advances.

So why should our social interactions online be different from our interactions in the rest of the world? I should be able to connect with others regardless of which applications I choose to use. Google Buzz is a major step in this direction. Buzz has a huge amount of interoperability using existing technologies like Atom/RSS and OAuth, and is getting much more soon. (It’s all for developers’ taking at Buzz’s Google Code page.)

What makes this relevant to everyone is the ability to publish and read from just about any application you want. This isn’t a centralized application like Facebook Platform, where developers extend more functionality to users and keep them inside the “Walled Garden,” but enables social communication between all kinds of applications, instead of demanding that friends use the same applications if they wish to communicate. In theory, I can post a status, photo, video, or just about anything on Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz, or even my personal site at ZekeWeeks.com, and everybody gets that information regardless of which applications they choose to use themselves.

This announcement means a win for the users, and a serious threat to operators of closed social networks. I don’t know how much it will succeed, but I’m all for products which improve users’ lives and increase technologies’ openness to everyone’s benefit.

Blogging about blogging

Social Network Overload

While technology has generally done huge things to help people communicate, I’m starting to feel like the internet has reached a kind of “saturation point” where the technology- or lack of integration and accessibility of information across applications – has become more of a limitingfactor in how I can take advantage of these communication channels.

Point in case: instant messaging. In the ’90s, AOL and Yahoo were king, and everyone was on. Now, I have to run a multi-protocol IM program to keep me logged into AIM, Yahoo, MSN, and Jabber. On top of that, I have to log into Office Live Communicator for my work contacts, Skype because it doesn’t work with my multi-protocol program…. What a mess!

Point in case: cell phone plans. Everybody has a “free mobile-to-mobile calling” plan to get existing customers to draw others in their social network to that cell service provider. Verizon has an amazing marketing term for this – you are “in.” Back in Arizona, it was very important to be “in,” because otherwise my friends would be more worried about calling or texting me. Now, providers are starting to let people choose a few numbers from other networks to add to the unlimited calling for an extra charge.

Point in case: social networking sites. Some people are on Facebook. Some people are on MySpace. Some people are on both but really would prefer that you use one over the other. If you’re not on one, you’re missing out on your friends’ activities and whatever they have to share. If you take pictures, are you going to publish them to Facebook? MySpace? Flickr? Are you going to take the time to upload them everywhere so that everyone sees them?

What it comes down to is competing products with the same basic functionality. Because most of these products/services lock your data into their network, it is hard to upload a photo or blog post and have it simultaneously show up everywhere: your social network profiles, photo galleries, your friends’ news feeds, your personal website. On the technical side, a lot of this could be improved by decentralizing data storage and making everything both publish and import RSS like crazy.

From a business perspective, I think that companies thriving on their social networks need to be wary of what happened to the record industry. At first, labels did extremely well because they controlled the distribution methods. Without their power to manufacture and distribute, artists were powerless. But technology improved and now the means to both produce and distribute music are much more accessible to everyone. Likewise, today much of the focus is on the site itself – are you on Facebook? Are you blogging on the same service as your friends? With time, this too will be come irrelevant, individual sites becoming homogeneous while technology still improves our ability to communicate.

On a much more practical level, I am frustrated by the need to keep up with everyone on different sites. I wish I could write my blog here, post my photos here, IM from one application, and have it all get to my friends. I don’t care about the transmission medium. I just am tired of all of the effort and upkeep involved in using many different apps that do the same thing. But if I don’t do it, I can’t reach everyone! Grr.