Google just announced a new service called Buzz, which is supposed to be Google’s answer to Facebook. Unfortunately, based on the Buzz site and its accompanying video, I don’t see this supplanting Facebook any time soon. I’ve got some advice for Google on how to make it work:
- Allow people to start slowly. Yes, when Facebook was released to the general public (not just college students), a lot of us felt like “Really? You want me to sign up for yet another thing? I thought we did all this? Friendster, MySpace, Xanga, etc. I don’t want another account.” Many people gave in, though, and created another account because Facebook offered the kind of lively community other social networking sites had not yet offered. It’ll be a lot more difficult to convince people to start up not only another social networking account but another email account. A good chunk of my friends have GMail accounts, but they don’t all have GMail accounts. From what I’ve seen, Buzz requires a GMail account and is part of the GMail interface. That’s a mistake. It should be its own thing (like Docs, Translate, Maps, etc.) with perhaps added integration with GMail if you already have a GMail account. Google wised up to this with its recent changes to Google Voice (you can have a subset of GV features by using your current cell phone number, and you can add more GV features by creating an entirely new GV number). If Google doesn’t encourage people to start slowly, Buzz will die, because I’d much rather keep in touch with all my Facebook friends than only the ones who use GMail (by the way, I have a GMail account, but it is not my main email account, and I check it through an email client, not through webmail).
- Really follow through on reducing noise-to-signal ratio. It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve finally grown to love Facebook. There are a few things about Facebook that still annoy me, though, and if Google wants to have people use Buzz, Google needs to step up and really fix the mistakes Facebook has refused to fix. The biggest problem for me now is that I’m basically friends with someone or I’m not. There are people I want to keep in touch with, but I don’t want to know every single aspect of their lives. Right now, Facebook allows me to either ignore certain friends completely… or hear about what they had for breakfast, and lunch, and snack, and what latest gadget they got, and some link they thought was interesting, and twenty pictures of their baby daughter. If Google can organically make the updates fit how friendships really work, that’d be a huge draw for future former Facebook users. No more fretting about whether someone is an acquaintance, a friend, a former close friend, a current close friend, a family member. You’ll get the kinds of updates you care about. Certain people will appear more frequently in your feed or more kinds of posts you care about will appear more frequently (to anyone who’s my Facebook friend right now, I love pictures and interesting status updates—I hate weird applications, quizzes, and embedded videos).
- Make privacy settings easy. The privacy settings in Facebook right now are the worst of both worlds: they’re complicated, but they are also not comprehensive enough. Just as I don’t want to hear everything about what’s going on in certain people’s lives, I don’t want everyone to know what’s going on in my life, but sometimes I want even acquaintances or not-so-close friends to know certain things. In Facebook, people can basically either see your updates… or they can’t. If Buzz has the ability to set any given post as for just super-close friends, for all my friends, for all my friends and acquaintances, or for anyone with internet access, that’d score points for me and make me want to move over from Facebook.
- Keep the interface consistent. I have no doubt, actually, that Google will do this. I’ve seen them overhaul GMail and the Google homepage, but they tend to take years to do a makeover. Facebook seems to want to redecorate every few weeks, and that annoys its users. If Google wants to bring people over, there needs to be a lot of emphasis about what Buzz has to offer that Facebook doesn’t.
- Encourage folks to “dual-boot.” If Google can find a simple way to encourage people to try out Buzz and actually use it while not entirely giving up Facebook, that’d be gold for Buzz. No one is going to drop Facebook completely and start Buzzing. If Buzz is going to take off, people have to be able to test the waters. I would suggest a Buzz kickoff week, in which Google encourages everyone with a GMail account to take a brief sabbatical from Facebook and Buzz about something cool that week.
That’s all I can think of. And I don’t even think that’s a surefire way to get Buzz to take off. I think if Google takes all these suggestions, it may have a fighting chance against Facebook. No guarantees, though. Right now, Facebook is everywhere.