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My Blogging Abyss, And Why Google Buzz Is Too Late

February 26, 2010

Some of the best advice about blogging I’ve ever read (I think from Robert Scoble or someone) is that you shouldn’t blog when your life is in disarray. For that reason, I’ve been quiet on thelynchblog for the past few weeks. Between looking at dozens of apartments in San Francisco and fighting off a crippling headcold that finally subsided this week — coupled with some busy, but exciting times at Socialtext — I quickly went into the dreaded blogging abyss.

So this is, by nature, a catch-up post, and naturally it’s on the big thing that I haven’t written on, Google Buzz.

To me, Google Buzz is like the guy who arrives to the party at 2 a.m. and expects everyone to roll out the red carpet so he can hold court. Despite the hour, and because of his street cred, we begrudgingly mix him a drink and hear what he has to say.

The problem?

Google was a little too fashionably late for its own good, and many in the party have already hedged their bets with someone else. It might just have spotted Facebook an insurmountable headstart.

The problem with Buzz is not the technology, which to me seems pretty good. I especially admire the fact Buzz is so open and it takes a much more holistic view of the Web than Facebook. The issue is that Google faces an adoption problem of entering this late, and that’s even with the trove of Gmail contacts it brings to the table.

Sure, Facebook is closed, but when has it hurt them? Although Facebook always goes the proprietary route, it works because they build pretty darn good technology that’s immediately accessible to regular people. This is why Facebook’s News Feed is more popular than Twitter and FriendFeed. It’s why Facebook Connect adds mainstream sites every day while Google Friend Connect is mostly adopted by small and obscure blogging sites.

Two years ago, for many, the idea of letting information flow to us in real-time was too overwhelming. For these people, they were comfortable with their primary online communication mechanisms of e-mail and instant messaging. These folks didn’t even use RSS; they visited websites manually. So when the idea of real-time was being shoved down their throats by one percent of the Web populace (and the media who follow them) before they were ready, it’s no wonder they rebelled. They hated the first big Facebook redesign (but learned to live with it), and failed to stay on Twitter for more than a month.

And that’s where Google missed its opportunity, and I’m not even sure good technology can fix it.

Google could have been the natural conduit to bring the real-time web to these consumers in an easy, palatable way, but it decided that we would continue to live primarily in a search-centric and e-mail based world for a couple more years (and hey, why not hope for that? It does those technologies better than anyone). It let Facebook take the mainstream eye balls for the real time web. The Facebook News Feed and design was far from perfect, but it was good enough. Meanwhile, you still had a large swath of people who couldn’t be bothered by the fun and games of Facebook, and who found Twitter too limiting and geeky. They would have been game for a real-time Google offering, but it didn’t come.

So in the absence of that option, about 400 million of them caved and joined Facebook anyway, and now their social stream is there.

So on one hand, my overriding feeling about Buzz is the hackneyed “too little, too late.” Again, this isn’t because the technology isn’t good. Rather, it’s because social networking users, who were once fickle (see: Friendster), are now becoming complacent and comfortable (see: Facebook). That complacency could have massive consequences on the social Web.


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