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.

Comments

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Jason Grant
February 10th, 2010 at 4:27 am (#)

I am sceptical at the moment, but I live in GMail UI, so it’s only natural for something social to appear there.

With FaceBook though, I am always unsure what I am sharing with the world and I can see the private vs. public boundary getting blurred with GMail based tweeting and many unwanted publishings happening because I think something was private but actually went out to the world. :-D

@Yishaym
February 10th, 2010 at 4:40 am (#)

Ah (load sound of palm against forehead) so Buzz is Jaiku reincarnated? About blinkin time! Now that’s a different story. Can’t wait to get it.

Bart Denny
February 10th, 2010 at 4:46 am (#)

Congrats, sure you deserve some of the credit. Will be very interesting to see how this progresses.

Jyri
February 10th, 2010 at 4:55 am (#)

Re: ways to prevent inadvertent sharing, I recently met the Google engineer who wrote the “Got the wrong Bob?” Gmail Labs feature. It works beautifully, and I think suggests that limiting features to maintain simplicity is perhaps not the only path to great design; social life (especially who gets to see/hear what) can be pretty complex and instead of requiring people to make decisions like “I will post everything here to the public” you can help people manage that complexity with smart “safety” features.

Jyri
February 10th, 2010 at 5:07 am (#)

Hey Bart! I agree it’ll be interesting to watch how the product evolves. Especially, whether or not it manages to reach beyond the existing Gmail user base. The credit goes to the awesome people who built and shipped it.

American Yak
February 10th, 2010 at 5:12 am (#)

Totally. Context & relevance. Personally, I think it goes beyond that, but good product! I especially love that it has #diso written all over its face.

James
February 10th, 2010 at 5:58 am (#)

compared to “wave” this is a huge win. The wave was really difficult to understand once you got there. When I heard about it, it sounded amazing, but it ended up being useless. I think the buzz will be a nice natural evolution of gchat, which i use ALL THE TIME. Its very interesting to see all of these social sites begin to talk to each other. I feel like they are becoming a huge pulsating digital voltron in my own image.

Gene
February 10th, 2010 at 6:01 am (#)

Buzz–interesting timing. I was just about to check out of FB and Twitter (and have seen quite a few friends doing same)…was actually finding both services very uninspired and a big time sink (with a vaguely depressing element that I think has to do with all the unwanted and distracting sifting I was doing to get to something relevant). I’ve definitely got my hopes up with Buzz–it’s clear there’s huge potential with these networks, and just like Google taking search to a distinctly better level than their precursors, I hope they pull of the same thing here. Go GOOG!

Alex Leonard
February 10th, 2010 at 7:09 am (#)

Having just bought a Milestone I’m very interested in seeing how integration with Android will develop, but am also looking forward to checking this out on my gmail account on the desktop.

It’s hard to envisage Google’s master plan sometimes, with various acquisitions, a multitude of product launches and so on. How does Wave fit into all of this? Wave was an exciting launch last year but it doesn’t feel like it is taking off in the way I had hoped. There’s third party Wave clients for Android, but no official Google apps.

I guess it’s just hard to see how all these things will integrate. I hope it goes well though :)

@normanliang
February 10th, 2010 at 8:42 am (#)

Finding relevance will be key organizing more of the world’s information. As search evolves new qualifiers like “where am I” make the answer more specific. Add a clock and you have more relevance. Congrats Jyri as I think this is the beginning of another layer for mail and messaging.

Bernie Goldbach
February 10th, 2010 at 9:01 am (#)

Just so I can control the noise level–I want a slider bar that throttles the Buzz.

I’m not so keen about pulling in new Google Reader feeds automagically when those people are added to my view of Google Buzz in Gmail. I may have to change my feed reader.

JussiR
February 10th, 2010 at 9:17 am (#)

This sucks. I’m a lonely developer building a recommedation system on top of twitter, exactly for the reason of avoiding social clutter, and now google comes with their new fancy recommendation algorithms and runs all over me. Hope Buzz sucks. Sorry Jyri, loved Jaiku. :)

Johan
February 10th, 2010 at 9:22 am (#)

You say mobile Twitter and Facebook apps are “lame feed scrollers compared to what they could be”. What could make them any
better? Already there are conversations, positioning, AR etc.

Bertil Hatt
February 10th, 2010 at 9:34 am (#)

Don’t take the credit from you, at least not the vision: it was too cool to see a soft-science researcher think out an industry-grade killing feature (well, that’s after Guitar Hero, MindGap, etc.) so I guess you’d be Yet Another Social…

In all seriousness, though: Google seems to feel like making things open, more so then the usually high standard. I’d love to see more insight from you on this blog about that: the product needs tons of obvious improvement (interoperability is #1) and many more, less obvious ones — and you are the guy that can make discussions about how features influence use, and use influence your design decisions above the rest.

Mike
February 10th, 2010 at 9:53 am (#)

Well, for me, Buzz doesn’t even install into gmail. I’ve tried it in various browsers quite a few times. And in following the #googlebuzz conversation in twitter, it’s obvious that it’s not just me.

Unfortunate, since this looks quite interesting.

@EskoKilpi
February 10th, 2010 at 10:45 am (#)

The point you raise: “Allowing sharing of both public and private content in the same stream. Having different privacy settings coexisting” is to me the key challenge. It is interesting to see the next developments.

JussiR
February 10th, 2010 at 12:20 pm (#)

Mike, in their event i think they said it can take for few days to get working for everyone. It’s not installed yet for me either. Could be that they grow the user base based on location (i’m from finland). Would be logical anyway, since then people could start useing it with their friends at the same time.

BUGabundo
February 10th, 2010 at 1:13 pm (#)

Hye Jyri, long time no see since Jaiku.
We still hang in there, you might want to popup back again.

about buzz a few thoughs.
I’ve been using partychapp (http://partychapp.appspot.com/) with a few friends, allowing us to make dead simple MUCs in gtalk, and use them on android, or IM clients.
I can see buzz being similar to having a MUC with all my contacts… kinda crazy.

also a few reports :
my google profile seems to be publishing my GReader shared feed, even when I said I dont want it :(
It also should be possible to not follow everyone via greader…

Also, I dont want all my GReader shared feed public.
For long I’ve been wishing to have that private, and have access to a private URL i can pipe into Yahoo Pipes and separate contents. I’ve open a bug report for this, and got ZERO replies.
Maybe with all the Social HYPE you guys will let me do this directly into GReader instead of using YPipes.

Will Buzz be available to GApps Accounts or will be this again another feature of fragmentation? there are already several google produtcs i cant use in my android cause the google account is limited :( dont make gmaps/latitude/buzz one more

mike bradshaw
February 10th, 2010 at 1:27 pm (#)

JussiR, don’t think it is location based, as it is working for me and I am in Finland.

There does not seem to be any specific way to predict who got enabled earlier in the process that i have seen yet.

Anton
February 10th, 2010 at 1:35 pm (#)

Hi Jyri, great post about Buzz. I think this was really good news in many aspects. It’s also pretty clear as you said that Google need to build a social architecture for the future. With Buzz, they’ve created something that we could find value in now – and Google can tomorrow.

And Latitude, Profiles, Shared items etc haven’t been obvious tools for this until now. Buzz is, from my perspective, the first social service that actually makes real new value to me. Brings them togheter to something I actually wanna use.

And, bringing open data standards to microblogging is probably the greatest contribution by Google Buzz. But the firehose is missing from the API. Do you have any thoughts on why, except the fact that Google probably don’t want other search engines to get value of their social graph?

James Whatley
February 10th, 2010 at 2:46 pm (#)

Makes perfect sense (that you were working on this), I’m yet to have a play with it myself – but I’m certainly looking forward to it.

Valuable lessons on building something that big you say?

I wonder what you’ll be doing next.. :)

Thanks for the update Jyri,

Good luck with wherever you’re at.

James.

gerrymoth
February 10th, 2010 at 5:26 pm (#)

It needs a dedicated buzz mobile app for all platforms and it will take over the world :D Oh plus interfacing with twitter & facebook (both directions) would just be great.

I do miss what Jaiku was and the friends I had there :(

Jyri
February 10th, 2010 at 5:51 pm (#)

Bertil, I believe you’re right in noting the importance of interoperability. The priority now should be to push for full interoperability between Buzz, Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the social web. One of the reasons that make me suspect the timing of the launch was good is that the standards enabling interoperability are, if not fully baked yet, at least off to a good start, and many of the key players are on board. I’m especially thinking here of the new ones required for distributed microblogging: PubSubHubbub, Salmon, Activity Streams, and WebFinger. Check the Google Buzz API site for more on this. Also, on getting your feeds to show up on Buzz in real time, see this how-to on Buzz by Brad Fitzpatrick.

Jyri
February 10th, 2010 at 6:38 pm (#)

Anton, your question about the firehose is clearly legitimate. It is important for Google to enable developers to access the public data in useful ways. I just confirmed with the Buzz engineering lead that any Buzz user’s public feed is available for subscription via PubSubHubbub today. This is important for interoperability, so that if I am not on Buzz, I can still follow my friends’ Buzz updates in real time although I’m using another client (e.g. FriendFeed).

A good place to follow how this develops is the API discussion group. Someone already posted a related question about feeds for keywords etc. There is no response from Google yet at time of this writing but let’s keep the pressure on :)

Gavin Bell
February 10th, 2010 at 7:02 pm (#)

“the value is moving to discovery, context, and relevance”, this is of course the hard part. Producing a list of updates from a set of known people is a merely hard engineering problem =) Filtering that list of updates into conversations, understood through social relationships, location and goals is much harder. Supporting both private and public usage is the right approach, we need to be able to do both.

Buzz looks interesting, placing it in gmail without damaging the productivity that people get from email will be a good trick to pull off. The use of open standards to support this is great, a distributed interoperable web will be more interesting than another single provider be that google, twitter or facebook. It is good to see the Google profile having some meaning too.
cheers Gavin

chrisco
February 10th, 2010 at 7:49 pm (#)

Hopefully Google Buzz doesn’t infringe on the BuzzPal trademark, http://bit.ly/buzzpal . Or if they want to go that direction (have Buzz Pals), maybe they buy or license.

Tim Maly
February 10th, 2010 at 8:00 pm (#)

It’s kind of disingenuous to compare Twitter’s website to some hypothetical future awesome Buzz app on Android. Not many people using Twitter when they are mobile use the site, we all use clients.

Joe
February 10th, 2010 at 8:15 pm (#)

As a casual user, I love posting news for others to follow through GReader. This will make it so much easier to post feeds to the world, and gain followers without needing to transition to Tumblr, Twitter, or even build my own blog. Out of laziness and the overall distaste for creating needless accounts across the web, I have waited for a day where I can integrate everything under one account. My hope is that I’ll never need to leave the realm of Google. The next thought is, how can this be monetized?

Jyri
February 10th, 2010 at 8:25 pm (#)

When I said that Facebook’s and Twitter’s mobile clients are “lame feed scrollers compared to what they could be,” I was not excluding the third party clients.

David
February 11th, 2010 at 12:34 am (#)

Sorry this “forced friend filter” isn’t a feature, it’s a deal killer. I don’t want to miss anything some algorithm thinks isn’t important to me. EVERY post by a friend is important.

Jyri
February 11th, 2010 at 1:29 am (#)

A slider that lets you adjust how much noise you want in your stream may not be a bad idea at all. In one experiment I noticed (somewhat predictably I guess) that the more people I added to my network, the more I ended up increasing the level of filtering in my stream.

Mark
February 11th, 2010 at 2:08 am (#)

A noise slider for your stream would be terrible. More choice = user stress. The Facebook news feed gives me no choices and actively prevents me over-consuming. This is the best thing about it.

Blogtheristo
February 11th, 2010 at 6:37 am (#)

One day using Buzz I can only congratulate the maker team and you Jyri! Google Buzz is the best damn Google Product so far. It is highly addictive yet easy adapt for gmail fan.

I like the possibility to filter Buzzes to different threads or folders especially to save time and to keep order.

Buzz is one step forward in the web 2.0 roadmap. It somewhat replaces the need of installed twitter readers for many of us. We willl see what is happening Tweetdeck, Seesmic, or Yoono’s connections to Buzz.

The impression is that is more personal than Facebook. The Discussions are more native and spontaneous than in Twitter.

The Syncronization with other Social Media services including my blogs seem to work OK.

Kiitos!

BUGabundo
February 11th, 2010 at 11:16 am (#)

Jyri so far i only want two features/controls:

to choose which sources from my _friends_ i want to see (i dont care about their twitter or flikr timeline, i already follow that from another place), and be able to follow them in GR without following in buzz

Anna
February 11th, 2010 at 1:40 pm (#)

Hi, interesting writings, thanks. Just feedback concerning the font now: It doesn’t work, at least in my browser for some reason. Difficult to read!
Br
Anna, random surfer

Jyri
February 11th, 2010 at 4:45 pm (#)

Anna, the blog uses fonts from Typekit. Could you specify which browser you’re having trouble viewing the text with? That way I can look into fixing the problem. Thanks!

wilder212
February 11th, 2010 at 7:21 pm (#)

Buzz is dependent on people using Gmail as their main email client which then links in all the other informational gathering connections. Problem is, I’ll probably never give up my Mac Mail.app. so Gmail will never become my “go to” email client. This makes using Buzz and all the cool, new features a burden.

I think if Google is serious about getting people interested and out of their defaults, the next thing they need to do is hire a UI designer and do a complete overhaul! Now that they have the tools and functions in place, it’s time to give the whole thing a makeover in simplicity.

Jyri
February 12th, 2010 at 8:27 pm (#)

Update on the Google Buzz firehose: instructions by Brett Slatkin (a friend, Google engineer and co-creator of PubSubHubbub) on how to subscribe to all public updates via PSHB in the Google Buzz API discussion group.

digiSal
February 13th, 2010 at 12:05 am (#)

One of my first Buzzes was stating that Buzz was Jaiku on Roids! Thought about you Jyri,

Thanks.

Gavin Barnard
March 29th, 2010 at 6:42 pm (#)

Google EMEA is currently looking to hire a number of Product Managers in Zurich, Munich, Moscow and Tel Aviv.

If you are interested, feel free to get in touch:

http://uk.linkedin.com/in/gavinbarnard12345

Regards
Gavin

Gloria Hoisington
April 21st, 2012 at 4:46 am (#)

Very good post.Really thank you! Cool.

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