I wake up each morning with the same mix of hope and dread. I hope Google will buy me for a princely sum and allow me to retire to some sandy beach where they serve mojitos 24/7. And I fear Google will simply invent a better version of me, forcing me to get a job as a greeter at Wal-Mart.
This must be what Facebook, Twitter, Plurk, MySpace, et al experience every day. Unable or unwilling to acquire those services, Google has decided to reinvent them (or copy, depending on your point of view) with Google Buzz.
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In case you missed the announcement yesterday, Buzz is Google's latest attempt to drop a 16-ton weight on the heads of Facebook and Twitter, primarily by combining elements of both. Using Gmail as a starting point, it lets you follow and unfollow, share your deep insights about what you had for lunch, post pix, videos, links, etc. You can connect it to Picasa, Flicker, Google Chat, Google Reader, and even Twitter (though only in one direction -- your tweets show up on Buzz, but your "Buzzes" don't show up on Twitter).
The key differences? Unlike Twitter, you're not limited to 140 characters, and the conversations are automatically threaded. Unlike Facebook, you don't have to fight off a zillion things competing for your attention, like people playing Farmville or Mafia Wars. Also, when people post something you can comment and vote on it. As the Buzzes pile up, Google will apparently sort them so the most "liked" posts rise to the top, while the ones about people's cats sink to the bottom -- at least, in theory.
(Also: So far, Ashton Kutcher and Perez Hilton haven't discovered it yet. So they got that going for them.)
I had to check it out; fortunately, I'm one of the 1 percent of Gmail users who were invited to get Buzzed. Everybody else on Gmail will apparently get access within the week.
I signed onto Google Buzz -- it wasn't hard, there was a big splash screen waiting for me when I logged onto Gmail -- and immediately had the classic social networking experience. Before I'd even logged on some random stranger had already befriended me: a not-unattractive woman who appears to live in South America.
I ran through the usual gamut of questions in my mind. Have I slept with this person? Do I owe her money? Is she a stalker? What does she look like from the neck down? Her Twitter feed, YouTube page, and blog offered no clues. But I followed her back anyway, because hell, it's what you do.
Meanwhile, Buzz had already connected me to 10 people in my Gmail address book -- the 10 people I've actually sent email to on the service, most of whom are not technically savvy and will have no clue about (or interest in) what Buzz is or does. I'm pretty sure I haven't slept with any of them; I hope I don't owe them money.
I then followed another two dozen or so folks that Buzz suggested for me, even though they're not in my Gmail address book (all of them have Google Profiles). Then I used Buzz's search tool to find people at random. Did you know there are at least four people with Google Profiles named Paris Hilton? I followed them all.
Whenever anyone in my follow list "buzzed" (I don't know what the right word for that is yet, but I hope "buzzed" isn't it) I got an alert in Gmail. Due to the threaded nature of the conversations, it's kind of like eavesdropping on strangers. Not that anyone had anything particularly juicy to share.
Mostly it was "Hey, I'm using Buzz. What is this for, exactly?" Or "Hey, I can't get Buzz to work on my smartphone." Or "Hey, Buzz works on my Droid, but not my PC. What's up with that?"
In fact, there was a lot of "this isn't quite working" chatter. I had my own problems as well -- like, for reasons unknown, it wouldn't let me add my Flickr account, and some of my tweets simply never showed up. Also, quite pointedly, there is no Facebook integration at all.
Then Gmail just stopped working entirely -- I'm guessing because a lot of people like me were trying to access Buzz at the same time. (Wait, this is Google. Aren't they supposed to have a goddamzillion computers churning away in secret lairs buried deep inside volcanoes?)
So that's another thing Buzz doesn't have yet: a fail whale. But it looks like they might need one.
Do we really need yet another social media service? Really? Post your thoughts below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.