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.