Waving and buzzing

Google Buzz slipped out yesterday with a minimum of fuss, or at least, a minimum of fuss compared to the launch of Google Wave. Still, at least expectations were dampened down, and today Gmail users have found Buzz arriving in their inbox. What to make it of, though. Mark Cahill says it's the moment that social media has finally reached the mainstream, calling it a "Facebook killer of epic proportions".

On the other hand, Jon Silk poses a few reasons as to why Buzz might not be all that. His point that not everybody uses Gmail is especially valid. If you've already got one email you're happy with, why move to Gmail? There's less of a reason to do that than to sign up to Twitter and especially Facebook.

For me, as it always tends to do, Buzz falls somewhere inbetween. On first impressions, yes, it does seem to be similar to Twitter and you wonder why on earth you'd need it. But building it into email is a smart move - you can't avoid it and if you know the majority of people on there, then that's another good reason to use it.

It also seems to sit somewhere between Facebook and Twitter and has excellent sharing functionality, plus the mobile aspect seems good as well (and this is one area where it can really steal a march on the other social networks, should it want to).

But yet it still doesn't seem essential or compelling, in the way that Twitter and Facebook are when you first sign up. And there are little niggles as well. I'm not keen on having responses land directly into my inbox (you can set up a filter for this, but how many people can be bothered). And if your Gmail contacts are, like mine, a complete mess and full of everyone who has ever spammed you, then that's also a negative.

At the end of the day, despite the breathless hype and analysis, probably a greater indication of how important Buzz is in social media will be how often we're all using it six months down the line. If there's demonstrative growth and users find themselves returning every day, then Buzz is worth watching.

In a way, Google products now have it harder than, say, Twitter or Facebook had. The latter two were allowed time to grow organically. Google launches come with an air of expectation, both in terms of the product and in terms of immediate success. If it's not done what's expected of it in a month, then it's written off.

Which brings me nicely to Google Wave, that collaborative tool that was launched into Beta to a huge amount of fanfare last year and is no the subject of an endless trickle of snarky asides from social media land.

If you listen to Twitter, the consensus is that Wave is a damp squid that's died a death. I'm not so sure, and there's a reason for this. That reason is my dad.

A quick explanation: my dad is not somebody who immerses himself in social media. He does not, to the best of my knowledge, blog, Facebook or Twitter, although he's probably used social review sites without realising they're social. He also edits a Devon folk magazine and another country-wide folk newsletter.

He has a loose team of contributors and edits both in his spare time, often chasing down copy, pictures and listings. Most of this is done via email, as are any discussions around it.

When, on a visit home for Christmas, I showed him Wave, he was excited. He immediately got it and got what he could use it for. To him, it wasn't social media. It was a tool to make his working life infinitely easier, and immediately asked for a Wave invite.

And that's where I think the value is in Wave. There's been a number of times recently I've been involved in long emails chains or collaborations where Wave would have made a difference, but nobody's been prepared to move it into Wave because they perceive it to be a waste of time that nobody uses.

Well, with Wave, you don't have to have everybody using it and being visible to the world. The small groups who are busy sharing and collaborating on projects are probably finding it more useful than the social media evangelists.

To me, part of them problem with Wave was the amount of fanfare and hype that accompanied it, followed by the confusion, didn't help its cause. And because it was social, but not quite what was expected and wasn't somewhere that you could easily hang out, like Twitter or Facebook, it was deemed not worthy. Yet I still think it's value as a business tool, not as a social media tool, has yet to be realised.

I still believe in Wave. Providing it doesn't completely die, there's a good chance it could see a revival when people start realisting how useful it can be for their working (not social) world. Out of Buzz and Wave, I still feel Wave has better long-term potential, despite it gaining less brownie points.

I may be wrong. I so often am. But it'll be interesting to see is Buzz can hold the collective interest. Either way, it's certainly less innovative and useful than Wave.

UPDATE:

If you want a good example of why Buzz hasn't perhaps thought through all privacy explanations, then this is a very serious and sobering reason as to why opening up to your inbox contacts, and others, without asking is not a good idea.

Also, I can imagine journalists and sources may not be best pleased. And if your Gmail contacts are anything like mine (ie chaotic) then there may be a few people in there who you'd rather not share things with. I still think Buzz is (just about) a good idea, but privacy's taken a back seat on this one, which is worrying.