Social networking software

Google Buzz: A Hands-On Review

This week Google whisked back the curtain on Buzz, its dive into the world of social-networking technology.

Buzz is a mixed bag -- a combination of good ideas and bad implementation -- and it needs more refinement before it can be a serious contender in the world of Twitter and Facebook.

In the following pages, I examine some of the basics of working with Buzz and some of the problems -- a few of them troubling -- I found along the way. I also made three videos in order to better illustrate how Buzz works: setup and options, posting, and followers and profiles. You'll find a video at the end of each page of this article.

The Buzz Basics

If you're one of the lucky folks who've gotten access to Buzz -- Google has been rolling Buzz out gradually to Gmail users -- you can find it by logging into Gmail. There, under the Inbox, you'll see a "Buzz" folder; click on it to get things rolling. Most any current browser will work with Buzz, although for the sake of consistency I used Google's own Chrome to make sure everything worked as expected.

Buzz works as a generic "here's what I'm doing" feed, where you can post text, links or multimedia. Posting a photo can be done by either uploading the image directly from the browser or pointing at a file in your Picasa account. If you post a link with a URL in it into your feed -- either by pasting the URL right in the text box or by clicking "Insert Link" to add it -- Buzz automatically detects it and attempts to pull pictures from the linked page, which you can then include for context. (It's similar to Facebook in that respect, but works a bit better.)

People can choose to follow you, or you can choose to follow them, by adding names from their/your Google contact list or from a public Google profile. Unlike Facebook, where people who want to "friend" you can't follow your feeds unless you "friend" them back first, people can follow your Buzz feeds immediately, although you are notified when that happens and can then choose to "unfollow" them at any time.

You can also post to the general public -- making Buzz a bit like Twitter, insofar as anybody with an account can see your post. (This ties into the mobile version, which interacts with Google Maps so that Buzz users can view public messages depending on their location and the location of the person who sent the post.)

Interestingly, Google seems to occasionally decide whom you want to follow without consulting you -- for example, one Buzz user reported that she found the e-mail address she uses to send data to her Evernote application on the list of contacts she was following.

[VIDEO: Click here for Google Buzz Setup and Available Options.]

Following is also not very flexible -- it doesn't appear to be possible to filter or group incoming updates except by selectively muting them, and you can't follow anyone other than a person with a Google profile.

(Google is already working to offset at least some of the negative feedback it's received on this score; the day after this article was written, the company announced some tweaks to its handling of followers, such as making followers and those you are following more visible and adding the ability to block followers.)

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