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Buzz Kill

By now, if you follow the technology world at all, or if you use Gmail, you’ve probably noticed a new thingy released by Google in the last few days. The thingy is called Google Buzz and it is billed to be a “status update” tool to allow your friends to know what you’re up to?

Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s supposed to be going after Twitter or some nonsense like that.

I enabled Buzz on my Gmail account and then promptly disabled it (you too can disable it, if it’s already turned on for you, by clicking on the “turn off Buzz” link in the footer of your Gmail account).

I’m going on record today to say that Google Buzz is and will continue to be an absolute failure. The reasons why are fourfold…

No one cares about the Google community

This thing is all about tying the Google community together, though they do have support for Twitter and Flickr as well because, well… no one can ignore those massive communities and have legs for the long run. People care about the YouTube community (a Google property). To a lesser extent, people care about the Blogger community (a Google property). No one cares about the Gmail community. It’s email!!! It’s not about community, it’s about utility and communication. Not community. I get spam in my Gmail. I get business conversations in my email. I get a searchable index of messages sent back and forth over the last five years in my Gmail. I don’t get community in my Gmail. The only community feature in Gmail is Google Talk and I don’t use that in Gmail. I use it in an IM client (Adium).

Google is too spread out to worry about community. They have products to meet needs and diversify web experiences, but their forays into community have sucked. Badly. Last time Google’s OpenSocial was a factor in the collaborative, community space was… oh, well, never. That’s dominated by Facebook. Not Google. Last time Picasa was an actual factor in the photography community was… oh that’s right… never. That’s controlled by Flickr.

And the next time Google tries to be a player in the “status update” community will be… oh, that’s right, never. That’s because Twitter dominates. Just ask Identi.ca. Oh, and Facebook.

Friendfeed is still something small and irrelevant

Why do I bring up Friendfeed? Well, my argument against Friendfeed still exists. Even Louis Gray, one of the biggest historical champions of Friendfeed, acknowledges that it remains a small community. It never has and never will go mainstream. So why has Google essentially ripped Friendfeed off and expect different results?

Comment? Like? Sounds familiar…. Oh, Facebook and Friendfeed do that.

Buzz is insecure

It’s well documented at this point that Buzz is actually pretty insecure. Because it operates out of Gmail, it assumes that your most frequently emailed people should automatically be friends. Except that that assumption is inherently insecure because friends are publicly viewable. Take these hypothetical situations for instance:

  • Bill has been corresponding with a major possible client under NDA. For any number of reasons, the communication should not be revealed to the public. Yet, due to the volume of email between Bill and his contact, his contact is automatically made a Buzz contact.
  • Kelly is negotiating an acquisition of a company. If this information were public, the deal could be off.
  • John is trying to take his wife on a big, secret getaway for her 40th birthday. In emailing with a variety of resorts over the period of several weeks, those resort contacts become part of John’s publicly viewable community.

Are we seeing the problem here? This is like Facebook Beacon all over again.

Why add more workflow and more social networks?

The argument has been made in favor of Buzz that Google has a huge Gmail userbase to jump off of. While this is true, this is one more area of workflow for users to utilize. Why do it? We have YouTube and Flickr and Twitter and Facebook? Do we really anticipate Buzz being added to the repertoire? I think not.

Buzz will have the same result as most other social networks: it will die. Very few have legs because very few are innovative and do new things. Twitter was an accidental success because it innovated on the concept of microcontent over SMS… yes, that’s how it started. Buzz is just one more has been and offers nothing new. It will stay in the bowels of early adopter-hood until it is forgotten.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Update: VentureBeat reports that Google has tweaked their privacy settings.

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The Washington Redskins Crowd-sourcing Their Games

A week before the start of the NFL 2009 season, Cincinnati Bengals Wide Reciever-turned-parttime-kicker, Chad Ochocino, tweeted to his fans that he was going to delete his Twitter account due to strict NFL rules. Of course he didn’t, and Ochocinco, always a showman, used it to deliver more buzz around his ego.

However, the NFL rules around social media are draconian and many inside the league know this. Earlier this month, they released an updated policy that bars players and their agents from tweeting up to 90 minutes before or after a game. Members of the press are not allowed to tweet during the game either or risk having their credentials revoked.

This is the landscape in the most popular sporting league in the nation. The NFL has enjoyed widespread success through control mechanisms like blackout rules that prevent a team from having home games aired in local television markets if the game isn’t sold out 72 hours before gametime. Though most home games league-wide are sold out, the recession has caused some teams, like the Jacksonville Jaguars, to not be able to sell out.

2897040936_c9546b9679This is what the Washington Redskins face who, on Sunday, will open their first home game at FedEx Field and will be encouraging fans to tweet during the game. The new effort comes as part of a renovation of the Club Level and embracing of social media, Redskins VP of eCommerce and Web Strategy, Shripal Shah, tells me. In this new club level will be the game on massive HD televisions surrounded by live-streams of Redskin fan reaction to the game, but reactions will also be online for fans not in the club level.

The Redskins hope to get reaction from all fans through a new site called Redskins Twackle that does more than just pull tweets having a #redskins hash tag. In addition, they are pushing an iPhone App that will help crowdsource this data into the Redskins Twackle site.

Twackle is not a Redskins technology. Twackle is a product of XTreme Labs and is billed as “Your sports bar in the Twittersphere”.

While it’s not entirely clear what this play will do for new media in the NFL, it will be interesting to see how the League reacts.

* Image Credit: Mad_African78 on Flickr

Update:
The Twackle app in the iTunes store is not an official Redskins Twackle app. It is a generic app released by Octagon, not Xtreme Labs. Commenter Lahne notes that the NFL social media policy is slightly different than what I listed here. For the breakdown, see Tailgate365.

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Twitter is Dead, Long Live Twitter

A year ago today, Twitter was something that many communicators were just trying to wrap their heads around. It was a new form of communication that was threatening to upset the precious fiefdom that they had built up over years and that had been taught in universities.

A year ago today, Twitter was something that a fringe of the greater population used regularly to discuss the election and monitor debates and campaign stops. It was something used for grass roots organizing and the biggest name was @BarackObama.

A year ago today, a handful of major media outlets were using Twitter. @ricksanchezcnn adopting Twitter on air at CNN and using it to monitor conversations around stories he was reporting on was a major coup de grace for stalwart journalism types who refused to adopt this new form of communication.
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Contrast these three scenarios with todays world. White House staffers are using Twitter as a regular routine. Sports fans follow @QBKILLA (aka Warren Sapp) and @THE_REAL_SHAQ (aka Shaquille O’Neal) – and yes, your observation of sports figures typing in all CAPS is not unshared. Musicians like @johncmayer – John Mayer – and @davejmatthews – Dave Matthews – are also using Twitter and talking to fans.

With this massive uptake of Twitter, it’s easy to think that the platform has arrived. And it has. It is as mainstream as any social service could hope to be. At the same time, Twitter is dead.

I don’t mean Twitter is going away. In fact, I don’t think it will ever go away. In fact, I think it is part of the future of online communications, much like email was back in the 1990s. Back then, it was somewhat rare for people to have email addresses. Clearly, this changed toward the end of the decade, but for most of the decades, the fad of having email was clearly seen in the resurrection of the old chain letter. We would find funny things online and forward them to all our friends like email was going out of style. Those of us who had an email address were considered the rare few.

Over time, email revolutionized the workplace to the point where, at the start of this decade, it was unusual for people not to have email and businesses began to rely on it as a necessity for internal and external communication.

Spamming picked up on the email service as it became easy to assume someone was attached to an email address somewhere.

Since 2006, Twitter has been like email of yore. Relatively few (in the grand scheme of things) had a Twitter ID. It was seen as somewhat geeky and was dominated by early adopters (from true early adopters early on to earlier-but-not-quite-early adopters joining in late 2007 and 2008. We developed exclusive little circles that we gave cutesy names like “tweetup” to – a mashup of the words Twitter and meetup. We developed our own lexicon for the efficiency of 140 characters. Words like “failwhale” and “hashtag”. We would “at” people and “DM” and we all knew what we were talking about. It was our little secret that would cause innocent bystanders to scratch their heads in collective confusion.

Sometime last year or early this year, perhaps with the election or the sudden rate of adoption thanks to celebrities such as Oprah and Ashtun Kutcher joining the rank and file, Twitter became mainstream. It happened while we were asleep and we all revelled in the fact that these well known names were becoming part of us. Until it happened without our notice and we became part of them.

See they used our tool to assimilate our culture into theirs – the same way they used tabloids and celebrity blogs to draw more attention to their worlds. More power to them. Twitter is not something that can be assigned rules of behavior or communication.

Excuse the long winded article as I come into land with my point.

Historically, tools come and go – whether email or Twitter, the sex appeal of a service inevitably gives way to the practicality of being. Much like a marriage where (and I’ve been through this), a couple meets, dates, has fun, gets butterflies but eventually settles into a more mature state of existence with their partner, platforms evolve into a mature offering that is critical to communications. It becomes the norm to have the tool and the conversation evolves from the topic of conversation to the catalyst for conversation. The platform ceases to be the focus and just “becomes”.

This is where we are at now, or rather, where we should be now. We are not and this needs to change. Twitter as a business offers much fodder for discussion, but Twitter as a tool needs to become that tool and not the topic of conversation. When we get together we need to stop having tweetups and start getting together. We need to put down our iPhones and BlackBerrys and sending 140 character messages on to our friends in the ether. Instead of talking to them, get back to communications with the people sitting across the table from you.

Instead of worrying about how to use Twitter, we need to just use it. Instead of having panels at conferences about Twitter, we should be having panels about the topics people are talking about on Twitter. Instead of worrying about whats the best way to use Twitter, we need to get back to our roots (whether in journalism or communications or customer service) and start doing the jobs we are meant to do and using Twitter to make our performances better.

Twitter is dead as a topic of conversation. It is dead as fodder for blogs. It is dead as a startup that is revolutionizing our way of lives. It already has revolutionized our lives and now we run the danger of over-committing to a way of life that will keep us in one place instead of looking forward to the next big thing. Twitter is important to help us get to that point but, like Twitter founder Biz Stone says, it should be the pulse of the planet. And that’s it.

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