Why You Should Give Google Buzz (…Maps) Another Chance

Ok, so, admit it: Google Buzz had one heck of a botched launch.  While I now think a lot of the privacy concerns were overblown, and most were fixed with lightning speed. But it set a bad precedent. Worst of all, it put most no-nonsense social media mavens in the mood to just turn it off completely and never look back.

Well, that’s sort of a shame.  Because while the Gmail version of Buzz has plenty of promise and, with its privacy concerns now mostly sorted, is worth far more experimentation as it matures, the best part of Buzz isn’t even available to most users yet.  It’s found exclusively in a Google Maps layer that’s only available on Android-based smartphones (it’s also partially available to iPhone users via the mobile web client, but it’s buried in links, and doesn’t offer the same front-and-center functionality or ease of use).

If you are signed into your Google account, you can instead get a peek at what I’m talking about by checking out this URL-hack (if it asks, allow it to “continue on unsupported device” and if you want, enable google gears in order to try and get the location features working).

If that worked, then what you’re looking at is a map of Washington DC filled up with geo-tagged buzzes. The best ones come with pictures. The actual application is far slicker, but you can still get the basic idea: that Buzz, at least in this incarnation, allows folks to annotate time, space, and place with text, pictures, and video. And to do it in a way that’s open for public viewing and comment.  That’s a fairly unique and promising social experiment, even in with behemoths like twitter and Facebook stealing all the air.

As with all social media, the value here isn’t in people saying things like “I am at X!” or “I ate cheerios!” but rather in augmenting everyday experiences out in the world at large with information, wit, and surprise.  While I wouldn’t style myself a master of any of those things, Buzz’s location-based, potentially picture-based updates have turned walking around a city like DC into a sort of scavenger hunt for interesting things going on in the city, big and small.   A couple of recent examples:

Why Google didn’t roll THIS version of Buzz out in a big way is a mystery to me.   Currently, you can use Buzz from three different interfaces:

All of these interfaces offer different features and even sort of a different philosophy on what Google Buzz is or wants to be.  For most people, that sort of design incoherence is immensely frustrating (in fact, I’ve found myself having to switch between all three interfaces just to accomplish exactly what I want). What’s dispiriting here is that Google’s motto on interfaces used to be: simply simple simple.  It made things easy for new users to figure out what was going on.

Buzz, at least so far, has broken all those rules. The desktop client doesn’t really have any location features for posting updates (odd in a world of coffee-shop laptops) and seems geared towards aggregating content from all sorts of different sources.  The mobile web client is sort of a klunky twitter-client. But it has a couple of inexplicably unique features like allowing you to search for a location instead of just giving you a short, constraining list.

The Maps client, on the other hand, is incredibly simple in comparison… offering modes to post, look at buzz updates on the map, and also a stream of buzzes either nearby or at a particular registered venue. And yet, this is really all it needs to be.  It is, most of all, FUN.  They just need to bring it to a wider array of phones and reproduce it on the desktop.

When they do, I strongly encourage folks to give Buzz another chance: to experiment and see if they can’t create some value with an interesting new way to social-up our media.  Annotate your city.  Go and check out things that others have highlighted. Just, gosh, play around and invent fun.

P.S. If there were one change I’d want asap, it would be the ability to dial up or down the overall accuracy of your GPS (or assisted GPS location).  Some buzzes I want to be super location aware. But with others, like when I’m posting from home, I would’t mind giving away my street or my town, but I’m not crazy about Buzz pinpointing the exact location of my bedroom.  Google’s location setup already has a UI for this: a blue circle that shows how accurate any location-guess is. They simply need to offer users a way to select precisely how small that circle can be (and how accurate it’s center/origin is) at any give time or location.

Note also that the Maps client does NOT yet allow folks to set the privacy status of their updates directly (as the other two clients do). Nor can you view a map layer of just those people you are following, or who follow you. Both features had better be on their way soon.

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~ by Drew on 2010/02/25.

2 Responses to “Why You Should Give Google Buzz (…Maps) Another Chance”

  1. I began using Buzz on my iphone shortly after it was lost, and made a similar discovery. Most users haven’t grasped the potential. Buzz will easily beat out location-based apps such as Fs or gowalla, and google is much better places to turn this functionality into a serious market research and advertising revenue generating program. The fact that it is linked to twitter makes your tweets poentially location based in a whole new way, essentially allowing you to text everyone around you who cares to look. And to visualize it on a map! genius, and frightening.

  2. Unfortunately, I think Facebook will ultimately dominate this market when they roll out their own locale-based solution. Twitter is too wedded to their 140 solution including the link to a picture, which eats too many characters. And Buzz just seems too cowed to be aggressive in this space.

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