What Buzz Needs to Make a "Sting" in Facebook

There’s a new Buzzword in town that’s “Buzz” lately and as I mentioned earlier, some are already calling things “dead” because of it.  Most of this is due to the size of Google, the masses it can reach, and the overall usefulness of the service.  Personally, I think all the “dead” articles are all a ruse to build the numbers of those praising the service and feeling a need to abandon others, as well as gain favor with the Google team as they see strong potential in the service.  While there’s no argument there’s potential in the service (and I’m even spending more time over there and strongly hope for its success), it is far from a “Facebook killer”.  While I mentioned why before, I feel qualified, and I’d like to spend some time sharing some things it needs to get on level grounds to Facebook.

Buzz Needs a Central Place for all Social Activity

I’ve said this before – Google needs a central place for everything “Social”.  Facebook has grown so well because it has this organization.  I’m still unclear if Google is trying to make Buzz this place, or if Orkut, or another product should be that.  Contacts are not that place – Contacts should be the source of social graph data, but are not social connections.  Social connections can come from much more than just contact data – people search, other peoples’ buzzes, as well as other Social Networks can all be sources for Social Contacts between Buzz (see the need for Facebook import later).

Buzz Needs a Stronger API

One of the reasons Buzz has such strong potential is because of its foundation on open architectures.  There is so much more that can be done however – I’m sure they’re working on some of these, but I’d like to share my thoughts, in hope that if they haven’t been thought of, they can be added.  For instance, currently there is no way for any 3rd party app to gain access to the cool comments architecture Buzz posts get in Gmail.  What if I could get FriendFeed, or even SocialToo e-mails in the same format?  Buzz or Gmail could open an interface to this, perhaps built on top of SMTP (an SMTP header would denote it’s a formatted e-mail), Salmon, and OpenSocial standards, to give developers access to this UI.  The great thing about it – if Buzz sends new Buzz updates in an SMTP-supported format, other e-mail clients could adapt these standards as well.  It would no longer be limited to just Gmail to see these formats.

I think it goes without saying that we need better ways to read, analyze, and discover the data, as well as social graph connections on Buzz.  I’d like to be able to track who’s posting about what, how many likes or how many comments there are for specific posts mentioning specific keywords or links.  I’d like to be able to track who has followed an individual and who has stopped following an individual on Buzz.  I’d like to be able to embed Buzzes on 3rd party sites.  I’d like an FBML-like interface to integrate and customize content right in the Buzz environment.  I’d like RSS for every search I do, along with the ability to share searches and get notifications on new items from those searches (I believe Steve Gillmor calls this “Track”).

Buzz Needs Groups and Events, Deep Integration Into Those Events and Groups

To say just a social stream service is comparable to Facebook would be like saying Notepad is comparable to Windows 7.  It’s just not a fair comparison.  One is a feature of the other.  If Buzz really wants to compete (and I’m not saying they do), they need deep integration into Groups, Events, business Pages, and more.  They need the ability for groups of people to all collaborate around a single event, Buzz around it, share it with their friends via Buzz, RSVP via Buzz and Gmail, etc.  Google Calendar just doesn’t do this yet.

Groups are another key component.  E-mail is too private.  They need to enable “Groups” in Buzz that do more than just Buzz.  They need to enable sharing of photos, events related to that Group, and encourage communication amongst Group members.  They need to put that into a people search enabling you to find old High School friends and acquaintances through them.  Google already has some of the basics for this, but I argue they aren’t yet integrated across Google services yet, and are a bit more private an environment than what Facebook encourages.  The challenge Google will have is maintaining the “public feel” that Facebook groups and events provide, while maintaining the “silo’d feel” Facebook provides at the same time giving people a sense of security.  This will be no easy challenge, and may take a silo’d environment like Orkut to do completely successful.

Buzz Needs Better Privacy Controls

At the heart of most Buzz controversy currently lies their relaxed privacy controls.  Originally they automatically followed people for you, giving others potential access to your private list of contacts.  Your Google contacts were also all visible on your Google profile just by enabling Buzz.  Google has since enabled you to disable this, and has turned the “auto-follow” into more of an “auto-suggest”, but there is still so much more that I can get from Facebook that Google is lacking in regards to Privacy.

For instance, on Facebook, I get to decide how much of my own profile is visible to certain friends.  I get to decide if it’s visible to friends of friends.  I can even go to the extent of selecting specific lists I want to be visible to, and certain other lists of friends (or individual friends) I don’t want it to be visible to.  I can specify specific components of my profile I want visible to those lists.  I can set profile-wide settings that remain protected by the privacy settings I set, as well as specific targeted profile elements that remain protected by these privacy settings.  Facebook gives me complete control over what my friends see and don’t see.  With Google Buzz, not only is it all out in the open, but you’re revealing much more than your social contacts – you’re revealing e-mail addresses and Google account information.  It’s wrong the way Google approached this from the beginning, and I argue, even a little bit evil, whether intended or not.

Buzz Needs Lists

Which brings me to my next point – lists.  Lists have much further ramifications than just privacy settings.  On Facebook, I can click on the “Friends” link on the left-navigation and immediately have access to lists I have organized of my friends.  I can view the posts of just my close family members, or just the posts of the news makers and use it like a news reader.  Or I can look at just the latest comments of all my friends, or even a summarized view of the top posts for the day.  Buzz really needs this to be even remotely useful.  On FriendFeed, I have a list of “Favorites”, which I use most of the time to get the most relevant content from those I actually know, and then I can skim the rest of those I follow occasionally.

On every Social Network I belong, it should not be about giving, but how you receive content.  Each and every Social Network has the responsibility to empower its users to receive content in the way they want to.  Facebook has mastered this (although I argue FriendFeed has done, to an extent, even more than Facebook in this area).  No one should feel the need to unfollow me because I post too much, or post one or two things they don’t like.  They should be able to read the content in the manner they like, and filter out what they don’t like, without the ugly unfollow.  Lists are just one component of this.

Buzz Needs Better Filters

The other part of being able to receive content the way you like is via filters.  Each and every application that interfaces with Facebook has to identify itself.  This enables users to filter based on application if they choose to.  If I don’t want to receive Farmville posts, I just hide everything from Farmville, and I’ll never see another field plowed or beet grown again.  People argue they’re worried integration with Facebook will enable the Farmvilles to gain access, but the thing is, without filters, the Farmvilles will use Buzz regardless, but without Filters you will have no way to stop them.  Facebook has completely mastered this, and I can’t do this on any other service.

In addition to application hiding, I should be able to filter by feed type.  If I don’t want to see someone’s Twitter feed, I should be able to hide just their Twitter feed.  If I want to block all Twitter posts from showing, I should be able to do that.  If I want to hide a user but not unfollow them, I should be able to do that.  I shouldn’t have to worry about making anyone feel bad by unfollowing or blocking them.  I should be able to just control my feed in the way I want, just like I do on Facebook (and to an extent, FriendFeed).

Buzz Needs the Ability to Import my Facebook Contacts

Lastly, in order to compete with Facebook, Buzz needs my Facebook friends.  They’re not going to get those through my Gmail contacts.  Most of my Facebook friends are not in my Gmail Contacts.  The only way they’re going to gain access to my Facebook friends is via the Facebook API.  It’s time for Google to suck it up, work with Facebook, and find ways of integrating my friend list from Facebook into the Google environment.  We’ve waited too long for this with Google Friend Connect, and surely there’s a win-win option for both companies to allow this and work together.  Win-win for them is win-win for the user.

Let’s look at Aardvark (recently purchased by Google), for instance.  If you log into Aardvark with your Facebook login, it will immediately detect who in your Facebook contacts are also on Aardvark, and immediately add them as friends on Aardvark.  The site, Digg.com also does this well – all my Facebook friends are automatically added as Digg friends as they log into Digg through Facebook.  There should be no problem with Buzz following Facebook’s developer terms of service and integrating this into their own environment.  Facebook provides hooks into its APIs for doing this exact thing.

Assuming it agrees with the Facebook developer terms of service, Google could even submit each user’s contacts to Facebook and immediately prompt each user in your contacts list to connect on Facebook.  This would be win-win for both companies, as it would encourage the users of both services to build contacts in each and grow each service.  Considering Youtube and Aardvark have both integrated the Facebook API (Youtube could do much better), I don’t anticipate any issues with them doing this.  I will interpret any lack of Facebook integration as a failure on Google’s part, and Google itself playing politics, not Facebook.  So long as you play by their rules, I’ve never heard of Facebook deny a developer.

I really hope the Buzz team reads this.  I have a lot of experience in the Facebook environment.  I know intimately how Facebook works as an author of 2 books on the subject and writer of a plethora of documentation about Facebook on various sites around the web, as well as a developer of numerous apps on the Facebook API and consultant to many others.  Frankly, as a user and developer, I want to see both companies succeed.  The more Buzz succeeds, the more Facebook will compete and provide a better service.  The more Facebook competes, the more Buzz will compete and provide a better service.  Users win in both scenarios.

If Buzz is really trying to compete with Facebook, these are the things they need to implement to get my attention.

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12 thoughts on “What Buzz Needs to Make a "Sting" in Facebook

  1. Love the part about the need for better filters. Right now, I'm hesitant to add people who have connected their Twitter feed to Buzz. Don't my Buzz feed swamped with tweets. And yeah, lists will make for better user experience.

    Like

  2. Very! insightful article, will definetely come back and read at least once more.

    Completely agree with your points on both companies winning by serving the users.
    And if that's not a valid argument for the corp management folks somebody could probably whip up a bastardized Zun Tzu qoute about “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” ;o)

    Like

  3. A) That's not true – Facebook has opened up almost all of their environment
    and even platform for 3rd parties to adopt
    B) Even if it were true, due to the centralized environment, that's a good
    thing. It's the same reason AOL is still around and still being used by
    many, many people – people enjoy privacy in an intimate environment they can
    trust their data to private. While it's not really like AOL, nor is it a
    “walled garden”, you can keep your data private there and separate from the
    world if you chose to do so. It is not a walled garden though.

    Like

  4. Very! insightful article, will definetely come back and read at least once more.

    Completely agree with your points on both companies winning by serving the users.
    And if that's not a valid argument for the corp management folks somebody could probably whip up a bastardized Zun Tzu qoute about “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” ;o)

    Like

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