The Buzz on Google Buzz

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This week, Google rolled out a new feature they’ve called Buzz.  For an introduction to Buzz, view the video below.  This marks the first time in quite awhile that Google has rolled out a new product without doing some extensive testing prior to a full release – Gmail, Wave, Docs, and Voice all went through a testing phase of some kind prior to their release.  But Buzz is here, and communicators need to be aware of what it is and some potential pitfalls.

Perhaps the easiest way to think of Buzz is to compare it to your Facebook live feed.  It is a real time display of what your friends are doing on the web.  Buzz accomplishes this by pulling information from your existing web accounts, including the Google suite of products (Picasa photo albums, Chat status messages, shared items in Google Reader) and other web platforms like Twitter and Flickr.  We should all expect that the list of sites that integrate with Buzz will increase over time. Every time you update a web platform that you’ve connected to Buzz, Buzz updates as well, broadcasting that update to your network of Google followers. What’s more, Buzz adds a new status update feature tied to your Google Account.  You can write text, incorporate links, video, photos and more, and share that with the friends that follow you on Buzz – or with the world at large. Think of it as Google’s answer to Twitter, without the 140 character limit and with the ability to add multimedia.

So what do you need to know about Buzz?  A few things:

  1. Buzz asks if you would like to share who you follow and who follows you when you create an account. Reacting to concerns raised by folks like techPresident, Google revised their Buzz privacy policies very quickly.  Because Buzz pulls from your most active email and chat contacts to create lists of followers, it is possible you could display contacts that you’d rather not publicize.  techPresident accurately notes how displaying your contacts could cause problems for journalists and politicos – but we’d like to extend that concern to communicators and advocacy groups.  Many nonprofit organizations have taken advantage of Google Apps, which offers great services for free or at a low cost.  Any organization using Google needs to check their Buzz privacy settings to ensure that their contacts aren’t displayed to the world.  If you set up your account earlier this week, you’ll need to do this retroactively.  For instructions on how to do that, check out this post from Lifehacker.  If you haven’t set up your Buzz account yet, Google will now prompt you with the question, “How do you want to appear to others?”  To protect your list of contacts, uncheck the box that states, “Show the list of people I’m following and the list of people following me on my public profile.”
  2. Buzz can crowd your Gmail inbox pretty quickly. Google clearly intended Buzz to become an integrated part of your email account, which has led it to display new Buzz messages alongside your new emails.  For organizations that use Gmail, this can crowd your inbox very quickly, and become rather annoying.  Again, Lifehacker has instructions on how to remove the Buzz updates from your Gmail account.
  3. Buzz has enormous possibilities for public sharing of information. Any information that is shared on Buzz that is categorized as “public” is available via the Buzz search engine. This is HUGE, as it allows you to search what people are sharing in real time via Buzz status updates, Google Reader, Twitter, Picasa, Flickr and more all in one place.  What’s more, anything posted in a public forum on Buzz is open to comment from anybody finds it.  We’ll have more on this later – but this promises to allow individuals and organizations to monitor and participate in conversations on issues that are important to them.

There are a lot of great resources out there that have details on how to set Buzz up and begin using it, and I encourage you to check them out.  I will have more soon on some of the ways organizations can use Buzz to further their communications agendas.

PS: I’m a bit shocked that Google is trying to get away with the Buzz name.  After all, Yahoo! has been using the term “Buzz” for their bookmarking platform for some time now.  I imagine you’ll be hearing more about this in the not so distant future.

UPDATE (2/26): Google made some changes to Buzz in reaction to the strong criticism they received over privacy concerns.  Writing on the Google blog, Product Manager Todd Jackson runs down the updates, including more prominent controls over who you follow and who follows you, as well as what items import to Buzz automatically.

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