In this week’s TWiT #243, Kara Swisher of AllThingsD.com talks about how Google has often missed the mark in their social networking because they hold off releasing products form the Labs until they are completely satisfied that it can be automated 100%. Whereas, most of the successful social networking start-ups have heavily focused and even relied on what essentially makes up a social network: The Human Factor. When there is a key piece missing, newcomers like Foursquare and Twitter through some new bodies on the problem and in some cases even open up the front door, create some Super Users from folks on the street and roll with it.
By now, anyone who has ever been to our site or listened to our podcast, knows how much we love those Google Engineers. But Engineers need to control things, put things into formulas create Algorithms and then test the living hell out of it. They have to robotize and automate even the slightest mundane detail before letting mere mortals mess with it. This is why most of the Google products you use on a daily basis have a certain sterility about them.
- GMail is one big inbox, you don’t need something, archive it.
- Later they added labels so you could tag than ditch it.
- With Labs they added filters, canned responses, keyboard shortcuts. All things to make you deal with your mail faster and in a more automated manner.
- Google Chat is still a no frills IM service that works better in 3rd party tools than in GMail
- Eventually they added Voice and Video to Chat but this was never as exciting as Skype to use.
- Google Reader is a great way to organize RSS feeds and even analyze trends with it, but every social feature they added to it simply missed the mark: Like, Star & Share what’s the difference?
- Google Docs is another no frills service that is useful but not useful enough. Why can’t we make custom HTML forms and customize the thank you messages yet with our own logos and links.
- Google Analytics, AdSense and Webmaster tools are all great but they are just that: Tools and Analysis.
- Google had a pretty good social network in Jaiku and then shut it down
- Google bought out a pretty cool location-based service called Dodgeball and then shut it down too.
- Google Maps with Latitude: Great maps with sometimes creepy Streetview activity and a total non starter service like altitude. Honestly, If I want to know where McGoo or Schultzter is, I’ll call them as I’m already holding a phone. Although lately, they pop up in Foursquare before I can make the call.
- Blogger was cool for a while too, but start-ups like WordPress, Tumblr and Squarespace came along and totally out did Blogger in every single aspect of the blogging game: ease of use, style, power, customizations and accessibility
- Which leads me to Picassa
Picassa was a cool service at first, a nice desktop photo manager let you grab pics from your camera, straighten them up, even touch them up a little. Honestly, it had some real cool tools included, but it totally removed the entire human factor out of taking and “developing” your pictures. You grab your photos then hit the “I’m feeling lucky” button and sure enough the photo looks great & sharp but it never has a warm or artistic feel to it. And to be quite honest, it took them far to long to come out with am online tool. They waited and waited until it could talk to Blogger, Docs and them simply missed their opportunity. A Flickr pro account only has half the tools that Google offers up for free, but it’s members still outnumber the Google herd by a large percentage not to mention that Flickr users are more likely to take part in groups and spend time discovering other folks photos as well as writing their own plug-ins for their own photo management software like Lightroom, Aperture, iPhoto and yes even Picassa.
So what about this new Buzz for GMail? This funny Tweet from Laurent Lasalle this morning really sums it up quite well. Once again it seems like Google is trying to join the party a little late, rolling loose bits from Jaiku, Dodgeball and Wave into their only product that really has managed to garner critical mass: GMail. Sure the launch videos are pretty, and they rolled the Schmidt and Brin carcass to tout it anyways which way they can. But it just lacks something.
For one thing, trying to set your privacy settings almost makes Facebook look honest. I said ALMOST. Facebook is still the devil. But seriously this isn’t the Twitter of simplicity either. And as far as I can tell, Buzz is like a semi private Tumblr where you can write longer posts than 140 chars, post videos, links, and photos. But it doesn’t post to Twitter or in fact to any other social network. It doesn’t integrate as well as Tumblr either. Right now there is just an iPhone and Android mobile web page, I have yet to have a look at the API but I expect to see some WordPress plugins flood the Codex soon enough. And you have to give up some of your privacy like as if you were on Facebook. In order to have one of your own external sites link to your Google Profile(s) (don’t go searching for Profiles without the s) you need to set up a link rel=”me” like this in your site header:
<link rel="me" type="text/html" href="http://www.google.com/profiles/your.username"/>
Where your.username is basically your GMail account details. Now you might remember that the first rule of fighting spam is NOT to post your email address all over your site. Remember, that’s what you pay your web developer a lot of money to create those awesome looking forms with the radio buttons and sexy drop down menus. Sure GMail spam filtering is pretty reliable these days, but why push its limits. This is like writing your phone number on every lamp-post you pas on your way home just because you have caller id.
The first rule of fighting spam is NOT to post your email address all over your site.
Some of the visuals simple don’t work either, not matter how many times I tell Google Profiles, that yes I really do look like a squirrel drinking a pint of Guinness, it just won’t believe. And unlike FriendFeed, FaceBook and Tumblr, the Google AJAX toolbox simply does not contain anything that will stop Buzz from showing me all 294 comments and replies to Leo Laporte’s Buzz. Or popping the very same post back to the top anytime some one adds a new comment. I’m only following 26 people but 4 of them are UberGeeks and Technorati so their stuff is always at the top and the other stuff somehow gets lost somewhere in between. Their really is no rhyme or reason to it, it just looks like a lot of noise in the cloud.
The other think I don’t get about Buzz is that the engineers might have sweated out all the automation and it might work fine for what it does, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling half-baked. Just like Wave it looks pretty cool but it just ain’t done yet. Now Google does have a long history of releasing products in to Beta and there is nothing wrong with that either. But the products have to be usable in their Beta form. GMail and Docs were perfectly good products in beta. But honestly the last few times that Google has stepped up to the plate they haven’t exactly hit the ball well, Wave has been a clear miss, the previous Reader addition have been clear foul balls and so far Buzz looks like it might trip and knock itself out cold trying to leave the batting circle.
You can spare me the “You just don get it” comments because you’re right I don’t, just like all the times I attended engineering parties and watched these “génies” liquor themselves up and then slip & slide through “spilled beer and other bodily fluids” in their haz-mat suits for fun. Yeah I don’t get it. Someone ‘splain to me like I’m a four year old social networker please. I must be doing it all wrong.