Friday, February 12, 2010

Google Buzz Scuttlebutt

At the heart, the only thing the Internet is really for is connection between people.  It's a way to bridge far differences between people -- either geographic or cultural -- and allow them to stand shoulder-to-shoulder.  This allows you to show your bank money to the book dealer to get stuff remotely, allows you to show the pictures from your vacation to your Pittsburgh-dwelling brother remotely, and allows you to receive group reinforcement from the group of people who have the same weird ideas as you do.

I've started a group to canonize Betty White and already have 137 followers!
The "connections" that the internet allows have a serious ... shading, if that is the term I want.  Connection involves positivity -- for a long time, it was a good buzz word to be "connected" and you certainly didn't want to appear "disconnected".  Connection is positive and -- at some stage of the game -- mutual.

Non-mutual connection is called stalking, boys and girls.  The internet is also really good at this morality-inverse connection.  Let's take Facebook:  the Harvard Business School found that the biggest action that men take while using Facebook is to look at pictures of women they don't know.  This is followed by looking at pictures of women they do know.  In all, the study found that two-thirds of all clicks on Facebook occur on the profiles of women.

If I click on a picture of my friend Janet, Janet has no idea that I'm seeing it.  I could leave a comment on the photo, but by default Janet has no idea I was ever there.  The number-crunching computers at Facebook know (and apparently they keep track, which is slightly worrying) but Janet doesn't.  Let's say Janet has a friend called Bobbie, who has never met me.  Bobbie goes to Mexico and takes lots of photos of herself and her crew of girlfriends at the beach then uploads them to Facebook.  When she uploads them, the album used to default to "Only available to friends of friends", meaning I could see them, even though I'm not friends with Bonnie and have never met her.  Now I get to stalk her trip to Mexico *by proxy*.  Exciting!

Facebook has taken some great strides in privacy, though it admittedly comes on the heels of some GREAT missteps.  But then along comes Google Buzz, which learned nothing from paying attention to Facebook.

They introduced Google Buzz just this week.  It's the status update feature that everyone loves from Facebook, but now it's tightly integrated with all of the Google services, like Maps and reviews and Picasa.  Not only that, but Google has leveraged its gigantic GMail clientèle by dropping Buzz right onto the homepage of the GMail site.  Obtrusively dropped, because it sits right below your inbox, ahead of ALL the other personal and sent mail folders.  In your email client. Hmm.

Google wants people to use it to try and steal Facebook's thunder.  Facebook is a huge draw of eyes and clicks, and Google LOVES people's eyes and clicks.  So they've tried to cut Facebook out by making it even more convenient to updates statuses.  "Why go ALLLLLLLL the way over to that website Facebook?  It's WAAAAYYYYY over there!  Since you're already here checking your email, how about you just .... you know ... tell us what you're doing?"

I can't fault 'em.  In this current climate of being able to "update status" at every website you go to, I think most people pick whichever one has most of their friends and update there.  Of the many people I know who have a Facebook account, a slim fraction also have a working Twitter account.  A handful have a working blog.  I'm sure there are many people who keep statuses going several places, but it's a big hassle for me.  I could keep a status on my Yahoo mail, a Twitter account, a MySpace page, my Time-Warner internet connection page, and a smattering of other "socially aware" sites.  But I don't, because it's incredibly tedious for me to copy and paste a single though across a bunch of platforms just so I could reach anyone who might be interested. 

So I have two places: if I have a short content-less thought, it goes into Facebook. For example:

Andrew Schwartz remembers the blissful time when all his friend requests were people he knew, instead of concealed porn ads.

Andrew Schwartz is laughing after receiving a notice that the "UMKC castration office" wants me to call them back. Yikes!

Andrew Schwartz is deep in thought.

Andrew Schwartz thinks Apple's announcement of the "iPad" will create massive confusion in parts of the world with an "a-o" vowel merger.

If I have thoughts that require something longer than a sentence, then they go into this blog.  That's my dividing line.  I could set it up so my Facebook status updates get automatically sent out as updates on Twitter (or vice versa), but everyone I know has Facebook anyway.  For me, there's no point.

But about the BUZZ.  As I said, it launched this week.  The first time I signed in, I was greeted with the message that my "buzzes" were being followed by one person already.  Hmm.  I haven't even started, and people are already following me around?  In this case, it was a good friend of mine so it wasn't a problem.  But there could be problems for other people.  Because I couldn't prevent him from following me.

That's right, Buzz launched without a way to prevent people from following you.  Makes a big difference when all of your buzz locations can be GPS-tagged.  And when it launched, every buzz was tagged as public.  So when I look at Google maps and see a buzz from someone I don't know saying "home at last after long day" that's tagged to a house three streets over, I know right where that person lives.  Privacy is SOOO last century!

To their credit, Google acted quickly and addressed these "oversights".  There's now a way to prevent people from following you, and you can "buzz" things as "friends only".  Still, hadn't either of these SERIOUS SERIOUS privacy issues come up in the weeks and months that Google was developing this site?  None of the developers ever asked the essential question, "What if I wanted to use this service maliciously?" before the public got a hold of it?

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