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This article was published on February 13, 2010

Google Buzz’s split personality problem

Google Buzz’s split personality problem

google buzzWhat is Google Buzz really all about? Is Google even sure?

Much of the criticism of Google Buzz since its launch this week has related to privacy concerns, but a problem that’s seemingly been ignored is an identity crisis at the service’s very core.

You see, depending on whether you’re using it within Gmail or on your mobile phone Google Buzz is a totally different service.

Access it via Gmail and Buzz is all about sharing and discussing content – you get a Facebook or FriendFeed-style experience. Buzz via your phone meanwhile, and you’ll find a much more location-focused service. Your current location takes up a significant portion of the screen space and your can easily browse what’s ‘Buzzing’ nearby. Anything you post can be geotagged, encouraging you to write about what you’re doing and what’s going on around you.

So – what does Buzz want to be? A content aggregator like FriendFeed or a location-based service like Foursquare? Google would likely say ‘both’. After all, location is just another layer of information that is interesting but doesn’t always have to be relevant to what you’re posting. The problem is that the user experience for accessing Buzz via Gmail and via a mobile browser is so different that the two use cases don’t really work together.

“What’s cool right now” vs “What’s happening right here”

Buzz Nexus OneMy Gmail-based Buzz view is full of former FriendFeed users sharing pictures, posting links to news stories and starting lengthy threads about them. It’s essentially ‘Google Reader gone social’. My mobile-based Buzz view on the other hand is full of restaurant reviews, people talking about catching flights and generally describing their surroundings.

Both uses for Buzz are perfectly valid, of course. You can read the location-based posts through Gmail and the FriendFeed-esque posts through your phone, but they make a lot less sense that way around.

It was always going to be risky for Google to throw every kind of social service it could think of into Buzz. With so many aspects to the service, a unified theme is needed so users can make sense of it all. Google is pushing ‘sharing’ as being that unified theme.

The problem is that with the Gmail and mobile versions of the service being so completely different in emphasis, users may end up confused as to exactly what they’re supposed to sharing.

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