Who needs another social network? Good question. While you may feel that the social network market is currently at full saturation, that hasn’t stopped the team at Google having a crack at it, with their new ‘social networking on your email’ development, Google Buzz.
The main strength of Buzz is convenience – it’s a social network which you can access from your Gmail account. That convenience has proved to be a double-edged sword, however. While most people understand that when they network they release a certain amount of personal information into the public sphere, when it comes to email, expectations of privacy are radically different. Therein lies the problem at the heart of Google Buzz.
First, the bad news
The first incarnation of Google Buzz was a staggering breach of Gmail users’ privacy.
The problem was this: as soon as Google Buzz went live it displayed automatically generated contact lists online. This meant that anyone surfing the Internet could visit your Google profile and see the people you emailed most regularly, listed as one of your ‘contacts’.
Straight away this created a storm of controversy. After all, the people in your Google contacts list may not necessarily be people you would consider ‘friends’. Neither are they necessarily people who you’d be comfortable broadcasting your relationship with.
This problem is so serious that it has actually led to a class action suit being filed against Google Inc. by those concerned about the privacy issues surrounding Google Buzz. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has also complained to the US Federal Trade Commission.
Thankfully Google woke up and smelled the coffee, and has now conducted two rounds of updates attempting to remedy the problems. The ‘auto-follow’ function has been replaced with ‘auto-suggest’, your public information has been made easier to control, and it’s now also easier to opt out of Google Buzz entirely (more about that later).
So what ’s the good news?
The great thing about Google Buzz (and there is plenty of good stuff) is that it is seamlessly integrates with Flickr, Picasa, YouTube, Google Chat and Google Reader, and of course, Gmail. You can conveniently socially network through your Gmail account, which is great because most people check their email a lot more than they check their networking. Furthermore, if you’re one of those people who really, really, loves to share, you can set it up so that pretty much everything you do online gets buzzed. Taken a photo? Buzz it. Posted a video? Buzz it.
Okay, let ’s do it
First, you’ll need a Gmail account. If you don’t have one, simply go to mail.google. com and click ‘create account’. Follow the instructions on screen.
Now log in to your account. You’ll notice a colourful icon marked ‘Buzz’ (I think it looks a little like a speech bubble crossed with the 80s electronic game Simon). Click it.
Now you’re in the Buzz interface. Before you click on the ‘share what you’re thinking’ bar at the top, you’ll need to find some people to share with. Click on the link at the bottom of the display that says ‘find people’. A new screen will open and you’ll be presented with a list of suggestions. Simply click ‘follow’ for those you wish to follow.
Alternatively, you can use the search function to find contacts. Click the ‘find people to follow’ link again. Enter an email address or person’s name, and Gmail will search for that person’s profile and allow you to add them to your ‘follow’ list.
Now when they buzz, you’ll be able to hear them.
On the home screen you can now select which Google utilities you’d like to include in your buzzing. You can make Google Reader shared items, Picasa Web public albums, Flickr postings and Google Chat all appear as ‘buzzes’ each time you use them. If you don’t want this stuff connected to your buzz, leave them unchecked. If you ever change your mind and want to add them, simply click the ‘connected sites’ link above your dialogue box to make the change.
Now you’re ready to Buzz – almost.
Click in the dialogue box at the top of the screen. You’ll be offered the option: ‘Show the list of people I’m following and the list of people following me on my profile’. This is the source of most of the controversy surrounding Google Buzz. Think carefully – do you want this information made available to people on the Web? Personally, I can’t think of a good reason why you would, so I think it’s best to set this box to ‘unticked’. Click ‘save profile and continue’.
Now you are ready to go; so write something.
Not only can you add text, but you can also insert a link to Web page you’d like to share or upload a photo from your hard drive. Click ‘post’ to share it with the world, or click ‘private’ and select who you’d like to share with. (To post privately, click ‘private’, then click the ‘post to group’ link. Click a category and add the name of the person or people you’d like to share with.)
Now you can do all the things you expect from a social network – post updates, comment on other people’s updates and more.
But some things to remember: If you’ve got a Gmail account, you’ve got a Google profile too. Don’t believe it? Log in to Gmail, then go to www.google.com/profiles, click ‘view my profile’ and hey presto, you’re on the Internet! And while Google Profiles doesn’t include your profile page in its search results until you start actively adding information to it, you’ll see that that public buzz you did a few moments ago has appeared on your profile page.
Also, bear in mind that Google Buzz connects to your other connected sites – photos you have posted on Flicker will appear to others in Google
Buzz. Buzz killing
Not convinced? Well, here’s how to opt out.
After the initial furore surrounding Buzz, Google has made it easier for those not impressed to get rid of it.
To opt out of Google Buzz now, simply click on the tiny link at the bottom of the page (‘turn off Buzz’).
You’ll be taken to the Buzz settings page and offered a ‘Disable Google Buzz’ link. Click it. (You’ll also be offered other options at this stage, in case you’d like to make less radical adjustments.) Once you’ve clicked it you’ll be asked to confirm by clicking the ‘Yes, delete my profile and posts’ button, and warned that this step, or at least the part about your posts being deleted, is permanent (you can start Buzz back up whenever you like, however). Click it and you’re done.
One more warning: You can access Google Buzz on your mobile phone, allowing you to buzz when you’re out and about. The mobile app, however, will post your location, along with your buzz, unless you specifically opt out of this part of the service. If privacy/security is a concern for you, opting out (which needs to be done on a post-by-post basis) is recommended.