Social networks need time to grow up – thoughts on Buzz

Email is the ultimate social network. There is no doubt about that. And yet not many companies have attempted to unwrap that opportunity.

Google made a big, bold move in that domain last week. Which is remarkable considering Google does not play (or play well) in the social domain. Buzz has unleashed all sorts of reactions and social gaffes (including pretty serious ones).

While I am looking forward to Buzz for my company (we use Google Apps), there are some fundamental problems with the Buzz approach for personal email, and even more so, with the way it was launched.

Most social networks do not launch fully developed. They start small, plant the seeds, watch it grow, react and build on it. At birth, the social network is a newborn baby which slowly learns to crawl, then walk, then run. This is how every successful social network has been built.

In contrast to a newborn social network which develops in relation to its surroundings, Buzz is a fully developed adult who popped out of the (Gmail) womb one fine day. It received 9 million messages in two days (how many did Facebook/Twitter receive in first two days). Buzz has not had time to adapt to users or let them adapt to it before getting scale.

Turning the Google firehose on means instant growth – a huge advantage for other types of apps, but a huge disadvantage for a social system which needs a strong foundation and to get the fundamental of social interations right. Think of how important it was for Twitter to the sociality of the basic tweet right, before letting it grow.

Secondly, not all social networks are the same. We have our private social networks and there are public social networks. Email is a public soical network – with me as the center of my network. Which is why a tool like Xobni can expose that network and fit in, without disrupting the basic nature of email.

In contract, Buzz makes our personal social networks public. This is huge – its a problem (or an opportunity) not just for Buzz but also Gmail itself. The question in my mind is less about user acceptance of Buzz, but more about changes in perception of Gmail. Will people start seeing Gmail as less private because of Buzz?

Is Buzz going to succeed? I honestly don’t know. But its sure interesting to watch Google trying to be “social”.

12 responses to “Social networks need time to grow up – thoughts on Buzz

  1. This morning my Mom called me, “Gmail is not opening. I can only see B, U, double Z”

    Agree on the long term perception of change of “Gmail as Email only” tool — I would rather give my mom only email tool rather than “Email+Social Networking” tool

  2. Totally unjustified.

  3. Agreed on all counts. I think the problem with Buzz is that it appeared inside an email and chat application, and this change is not an organic one. Frankly, I don’t understand what to make of it and I find it a bit disorienting. Perhaps there were less jarring ways of phasing it in that would make users more comfortable, but now it feels like it’s here at once and everyone is forced to make changes to what they do when they log into Gmail.

  4. Good piece. While Buzz has certainly generated a lot of Buzz, I’m surprised no one’s raising bigger questions over the “9 million messages in two days” stat. Sure, in those 1st two days everyone who logged into gmail was effectively prompted to buzz something. But how many of those were “Wow, I’m trying buzz!” from people who will then stop buzzing? Social network platforms don’t just face the total users hurdle, but, to stay relevent, the user frequency hurde. Integrating with email and chat would in theory be a way to push more traffic and frequency – maybe why Google built in features such as the confusing line-crossing from private to public chat.

  5. Well I personally feel that whatever may be the number (millions) of ‘buzz’ messages that were produced in two days, its more important to understand what those messages said. I am not quite happy with buzz.

  6. Somehow, Buzz reminds me of my wishes that google wave be integrated with gmail.
    Extremely well written article Rashmi.

  7. I think that Buzz would change the way we network today, How many Social networking sites and related to so many other application of the same platform, Google has many superb product, Reader is one of them, and it lets you share the knowledge that you gain from blogs sites with the world.

    Not to mention that the number of BUZZ it received in first two days didn’t come out of nothing, obviously people and using it and liking it.

  8. I had similar observations as you regarding the identity of gmail. Buzz allows private and public messages all within the gmail functionality. So it broadens and confuses the private concept of email.

    I think if Google doesn’t manage the privacy settings, people may see gmail as less private and maybe less secure as before. Meanwhile, as long as gmail and buzz are on separate tabs in my email, I think people will be able to differentiate the two. But you never know… especially when Buzz sometimes pops into the mail area.

  9. Perhaps, the way we may look at it is of undoubtedly a tool that facilitates us to connect better and open up with our closed ones. An interesting nature of buzz is that we talk about things to those whom we want to, and at the same time, let our social circle know about it. A one-to-one communication in the presence of the world we are connected to. Perhaps, the group chats, or a simulated meeting room environment!

    The social impact: it might tend to open up people, but at the same time make them perhaps, a bit more cautious on what they want to talk about; sense of responsibility pumped in to human minds towards social behavior.

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