Archive for February, 2010

Photo credit: ElDave (Flickr)

My little Google Buzz voting experiment broke 20,000 votes this weekend (story on ReadWriteWeb). As of now 1,390 people have submitted 487 ideas and cast 21,218 votes (some ideas are duplicates, sadly there is no way to merge them). Thanks to everyone who has participated!

Below is a short summary of the feedback. It’s not meant to be objective and you should feel free to create your own breakdown (anybody out there specializing in survey analysis?) I tried to take into account the most actively voted topics while also including less popular fixes that I consider important.

I. Clean the stream

  1. Hide comments by default (use notifications & hints—see Jaiku/Friendfeed)
  2. Don’t re-order the stream when new comments are added to posts
  3. Allow clicking posts to expand/collapse threads inline
  4. Remove dupes
  5. Allow unsubscribing from specific sources

II. Stop ruining my Inbox

  1. Don’t put notifications about new comments in my Inbox unless the comment is directly addressed to me or in a thread that I explicitly subscribed to
  2. Make Mute a clearly visible button
  3. Better filtering: e.g. allow sorting search results by # of likes & comments
  4. Don’t show the same faces more than once in New Followers
  5. Stop showing unread count in sidebar (this is not email)

III. Better public conversation

  1. Block trolls straight from comments
  2. Add autosuggest popup to @-replies in non-Gmail UIs (mobile & Profile)
  3. Include previous commenters in the @-reply suggestions
  4. Enable Re-buzzing
  5. Make it possible to like & link to comments

IV. Leverage Gmail & Mobile features that rock

  1. Add starring of posts and comments
  2. Add Nearby tab to desktop (currently mobile only)
  3. Allow location tagging of desktop posts (currently mobile only)
I’ve excluded the API-related feedback (including third party feeds) from this summary since I wanted to focus on improvements to the current feature set and the API hasn’t been launched yet. The API will have a huge impact on the Buzz ecosystem because it’ll allow content to flow in and out of Buzz and third parties to build alternative UIs. Developers should join the Buzz API discussion group.

Let’s face it: less than a week into the game, the shortcomings of Google Buzz are crippling its use. Even proponents are critical of the platform. As Robert Scoble put it, “They made some horrid mistakes.”

Nonetheless people (even Robert!) want it to succeed. Massively. The web is overflowing with calls to fix Buzz.

Google must react at lightning speed. But what can busy engineers do to draw signal from the jumble of rants and raves scattered across the web?

The Gmail help center is a dead end. The Suggest a Feature page contains nothing Buzz-related. The list of Known Issues has two entries.

As a quick solution, I set up an unofficial How to Fix Google Buzz series on Google Moderator. Anyone can participate by adding ideas and voting them up or down. I seeded it with Scoble’s “12 worst features Buzz copied from Friendfeed.”

It has now been live 24 hours, so let’s see if the experiment worked.

  • How many ideas have been submitted? 209.
  • How many votes have been cast? 7,016.

Not bad considering it took about 5 minutes to set up.

Here are the top 10 requests:

  1. “Provide a way to hide all comments until I want to see comments” (205 votes)
  2. “Filter by content type. (i.e. don’t show me twitter from anyone, or for a specific user)” (174 votes)
  3. “If I read comments in Buzz mark them as read in Google reader and vice-versa” (162 votes)
  4. “Provide a way to group friends into lists. Lack of this makes using Buzz with more than small groups very frustrating” (143 votes)
  5. “Let me see all the likes by a single person. Over on FriendFeed I can see what Mike Arrington has liked, or commented on. I can’t do that in Google Buzz” (128 votes)
  6. “Add comment moderation. It should be possible to block people right from comments (like on FriendFeed)” (111 votes)
  7. “I’d love to see Gmail filters applied to Buzz. Keep most of the keyword based filters that are available on Gmail filters but add new ones like Number of Comments, Number of Likes, etc. Actions should include Mute for hiding noisy threads” (99 votes)
  8. “A collapsed list view like what’s available in Google Reader” (97 votes)
  9. “Duplicate posts filter / grouping. So I don’t have to scroll past / see all those duplicate Reader shares. e.g. Of Mashable stuff” (92 votes)
  10. “Introduce lists (like in Twitter) to Buzz” (92 votes)

Note that #10 duplicates #4. Too bad Google Moderator doesn’t have a way to merge entries (feature request!)

Feel free to add in your votes and ideas.

Texas-based maverick of an author Hugh McLeod is on the ball when it comes to social objects. He has a witty post up today (update: actually, it dates from 2007 – see comments) on gapingvoid.com called “Social objects for beginners.” Through seven short examples, he shows how social objects bring people together by giving them a reason to talk to each other.

It’s an entertaining read. Around anecdote F I was already chuckling so loudly my one year old clomped in looking worried, apparently to check if dad had lost it for good.

I won’t spoil it by quoting snippets here, so go read the full post on gapingvoid.

Hugh also draws cartoons. The one on the right is for Stormhoek, the South African wine he markets in the U.S.

“Game over… Facebook is the new MySpace” (Jason Calacanis)

“This is already WAY BETTER than FriendFeed” (Scoble)

“Buzz exists because Google feels threatened by Twitter and Facebook and wants to kill them.” (Newsweek tech blog)

Most of the conversation over the last 24h has been centered around predicting if “Buzz will kill” this or that service. The unspoken assumption that lies behind this debate is that Buzz and the rest of the social web are mutually exclusive.

It’s arguably fair to assume that the leading companies are locked in a zero-sum, winner-takes-all game where the prize is total domination of the social web, considering all the social networks we’ve got so far are silos. To no longer assume everyone has to be using the same branded system to talk to each other is disruptive to the tech biz discourse, which is obsessed with turning everything into a war over which company is “the one”. So much so that the alternative is almost unthinkable.

If the new standards succeed, in 2015 we’ll look back on these debates and shake our heads like we shake our heads today at the early days of warring proprietary phone networks and email systems. The thought that you couldn’t call, text or email people (or companies, or public services) just because you happened to sign up with the wrong phone company or email provider is so blatantly a bad idea it’s absurd. Doubly so for the social Web where everything is already built on the same underlying protocol.

The reason many of the current commentators miss this point is that they are, in the immortal words of Walt Whitman, “demented with the mania of owning things.” (borrowing that quote from Doc Searls).

Let’s see through this entertaining controversy and not lose sight of the real enemy. This enemy is autocracy – the unlimited power of one leader over masses of people – and it feeds on fragmentation. There is a vision worth pursuing that’s bigger than Twitter, Facebook, Google, or any company. It’s the vision of a true global conversation. One of a world where I can tune in to a squabble between tribesmen in Congo and you can @-reply to a joke by a Chinese taikonaut. It doesn’t matter that they’re registered on services we’ve never heard of, speaking in languages neither of us can understand. We can still discover them, follow them, and have a conversation. Because they, like we, are on the same social web.

This morning Google switched on real time conversations on Gmail, mobile, and Google Profiles. The product got the name Google Buzz.

As the former product manager and someone who made the decision to sell a startup and move his family halfway around the world to build said product, it’s an emotional moment to see it out in the wild.

Of course, I left a good while ago and credit is due in its entirety to the team at Google.

What everyone wants to know now is, will Buzz disrupt Facebook and Twitter? Or did it flame up thanks to Google hype, only to smolder away unloved and unused like Wave?

Here’s what I suspect. Although Google’s getting into the game late, the timing may be just right. The game is no longer just about “what are you doing”. As microblogging has become more popular, the stream has become more busy, and people are getting tired of sifting through the noise. So, now that pretty much everyone has shown up for the party, the value is moving to discovery, context, and relevance. The question we increasingly feel our social inbox should answer better is: “given what you know about me, look at everything I subscribe to, and show me only the updates I care about most right here, right now.” In one word: Search. And who has the advantage there? We know who.

Second, look at what’s happening to usage. You don’t need a crystal ball to know that mobile is becoming the primary (in some cases the only) interface to daily social media. Facebook’s and Twitter’s mobile clients? Let’s be straight, they’re lame feed scrollers compared to what they could be. Nobody has come even close to harnessing the full power of mobile. Which of the three companies has its own mobile platform: Facebook, Twitter, or Google? Again, we know who.

Third, note that Buzz is built to be compatible with open standards that enable the distributed production and processing of real time updates. In fact, where standards didn’t exist, ones were set in place, with the philosophy to enable developers working with existing web technologies to apply them with minimal effort. This could be the most significant contribution of the entire project in the long run.

Google’s weakness historically has been in that it hasn’t “gotten sharing right”. If there’s one thing I’m interested to watch get used in real life it’s the sharing model, which allows sharing of both public and private content in the same stream. Having different privacy settings coexist intuitively in an interface is one of the trickiest design challenges there is. A lot of time was spent tuning this, and I’m pretty optimistic about the result.

When the Jaiku team joined Google, we were tasked with doing “something cool with mobile and social”. Teemu mashed up Jaiku and Google Maps on the mobile in a couple of weeks, but we couldn’t use it because it was built on Jaiku’s, not Google’s social graph.

The problem at the time was that there was no Google-wide social graph. There was no sharing model or friend groups. There was no working activity stream back-end. There were not even URLs for people. All this had to be built, and parts of the whole (such as Google Profiles and Latitude) were shipped incrementally along the way. The archstone that connects everything together is Buzz in Gmail.

The task has been truly herculean, and I have deep respect for the engineers and designers who pulled it through over literally years of iteration and countless changes. I left before Buzz shipped, but learned a lot of valuable lessons about building something that big.

Did we get it right? It would be great to hear your thoughts.

PS. If you read just one thing on Buzz, make it Tim O’Reilly’s post from earlier today. Tim sees what Google is doing (and should be doing) with Buzz better than any other commentator I’ve seen so far.