Google Buzz and contacts silos (and privacy and spam)

Updated below.

So today's buzz is about Buzz, Google's new Friendfeed-kind of thing announced just an hour or so ago. Jeremiah Owyang blogged some quick thoughts, including this:

For consumers, the risk of privacy will continue to be at top of mind. Although the features allow for sharing only with friends or in public. expect more consumer groups to express concern. Overtime, this will become moot as the next generation of consumers continues to share in public.

Setting aside his prediction that privacy will become "moot" — which I don't believe is necessarily true, given that we're still in the bedazzled phase of experiencing social media's integration with our daily lives — as I look at my own use of Google, Twitter, etc., Buzz could turn out to be the means towards breaking down my contacts silos.

Right now, my Twitter contacts are pretty much separated from all other media I use. My Flickr contacts are separated as well. Frankly, I'm building contacts in different media via varying criteria. For example, just because I follow someone on Twitter doesn't mean I will find his or her Flickr photos particularly interesting. My Address Book contacts are separate on my computer. I sync them via MobileMe, which was handy when I was using my iPhone.

It's when I adopted the Droid that Google nudged me a bit to maybe consider consolidating my contacts silos. Until that time, I did not have many contacts in Google. I use Gmail pretty much just as my spamable address, good for listservs, discussion boards, web services registration.... not for interpersonal communication. I just find Gmail too unusable, and its spam filtering too handy. But the Droid syncs with your Google contacts, so after a moment's pondering opted to add Google sync to my Address Book settings in Snow Leopard.

Now Google has Buzz, which pushes towards even more contacts integration, breaking down the Twitter silo. Jeremiah writes:

Content will be aggregated, and then prioritized based upon the people you already email with, Harry McCracken and I call this a social graph based on history, “Historical social graph” or HSG. Secondly, this Google Buzz feature will rate and rank content based on activity and interaction within your social group.

For me, people I email with are not part of my "Historical social graph" because my email world is my real world — clients, friends, colleagues, associates, family — and my social media world is more open, more ephemeral, more casual, more about ideas and news and interesting stuff. While there's certainly a degree of overlap between my real world and my social graph world, for the most part they define different areas of my life. And I consider this a good thing. I like following people I don't know but who are interesting and do or talk about interesting things. And I like interacting with friends, clients, associates on a more personal basis even though I may not find their public social media life particularly interesting.

But if Buzz is automatically following my email contacts, and I want to integrate Buzz with my active Twitter life, Buzz is pushing towards melding all these different social spheres into one big blob. Is that good? On balance, I can't say. On the plus side, I suppose it helps fill some gaps in my social media life by connecting my email (i.e., "real") world with my social networking (i.e., "virtual") world a bit more. But on the minus side, it tosses personal contacts and online social media contacts into one bucket, which then becomes something of a contact management problem. And it apparently by default pulls social media activity of my personal contacts into my social media life, which I may not particularly want. (My neighbor is really nice, but do I really want to read her "buzz" about knitting socks?)

There is the privacy thing, at least to some extent. Google is glomming onto a lot of our lives. All one company, all centralized. I confess it goes against my preference for peer-to-peer networks. Perhaps more of a concern might be spam. I don't know about you, but I really hate it when someone using Plaxo ends up spamming me to update my information. On the other hand, email is the most vulnerable medium when it comes to spam, and all these social networks are at least relegating email to fewer and narrower use cases.

These are just my initial thoughts. More as Buzz comes walking my way.


Dave Winer isn't so impressed with Buzz:

I liked Google Buzz at first, for about 15 minutes. Permalink to this paragraph

But when I got to the API, I saw a big red X over its future. Permalink to this paragraph

They had to embrace the Twitter API to capitalize on the know-how in the developer community. Google is going it alone. Good luck with that. Maybe it will get uptake, but there's nothing here for me as a developer. I'm even more bored with Buzz after 15 minutes than I am with Twitter after three years.

Update 2: Apparently Yahoo! and Microsoft are pointing out that they have had since 2008 the features Google is touting about Buzz today. The difference for me, though, is that I haven't used Yahoo email since 2002 (thanks to all the spam) or Hotmail email since before that. They just are too far out on the margins of my social media life today. Yes, I know, Yahoo owns Flickr, but Flickr is a very focused web app for a very narrow use case. Aside from the odd comment here and there, the only real lively interactions on Flickr itself tend to be about Flickr itself.


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