I’m always on the look out for new ways to keep up to date with my Flickr contacts and their latest photos. Buzz is perhaps the newest way, and Google’s new social network concept has sure attracted plenty of attention. Opinions seem to be at either end of the spectrum – doomsayers and fanboys aplenty. But what’s wrong with sitting on the fence, exactly? I’m surprised that so many people are so convinced that Buzz will fail/succeed already. I think a lot of people forget that their use of and vision for the internet is not necessarily reflective of the average user. And it’s the average user that will decide its fate. Some of my comments on Buzz itself seem to have left people with the impression that I’m anti-Buzz in some way, or believe it will fail. Not so. I like the concept, but do feel there are some questions that should be asked, and that currently have no answer. Time will reveal all.
First of all, what am I hoping to get from Buzz? Well, simply put, an innovative and easy way to view Flickr photos. There’s massive potential there, that’s for sure, and I like what they’ve already done. I’m not though, necessarily hoping for a ‘new Facebook’. And if I’m not alone in that regard, maybe that is an issue for Buzz. Because Facebook is the one to beat in the social network arena, and I doubt Google will want to settle for second place.
For me, potential, innovation, concepts and talent do not make a successful web start up. To be successful I think the start up has to either offer something new, or do something unoriginal but better. But either way it has to be useful to a large enough market. And if your revenue is coming from advertising, that market needs to be huge. Why did FriendFeed fail, for example?
For Buzz to succeed I really believe it needs to take on Facebook and win over its users to a new platform, and I think that’s a really hard ask. Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe Facebook isn’t the competitor, but if so, what market is Buzz actually going for? Maybe I just don’t get it. But surely Buzz isn’t looking for a niche community, and surely they aren’t hoping that everyone will use both Facebook and Buzz, and use them equally? Facebook came to the net with little competition to fight off, but still took some time to really take hold. There was MySpace, but that was already full of teenagers with glittery sparkling profiles. I remember that techy type people were a little surprised at the age of the average Facebook user in the early days. People in their twenties, thirties and forties were joining up en masse. I thought that that was the point of Facebook. Buzz doesn’t have that gaping hole in the market to aim for.
So what does Facebook do right? It puts people in touch in an ‘all in one’ environment. Although you can use it to drag your other social networks into one place, I’m seeing most of my contacts using it as a one stop shop. We chat, send mails, play games, upload photos and videos in a single site. That, I think, is what won people over to Facebook, even though they didn’t get it right all the time. Is Buzz going to try and copy this concept, or do something FriendFeed style. Remember…FriendFeed failed.
I think it’s also important to get real communities together. People who know each other offline. Facebook succeeded at that. Google has inserted Buzz into Gmail because, in my opinion, they want to get their product out as an auto on network to as big an audience as possible from day one. Problem is, that limits it to Gmail users. I’ve checked my Gmail contacts….I have just four Gmail users in my list. So my Buzz community is 100% made up of people I don’t really know. Facebook on the other hand contain more than a hundred contacts, the vast majority of whom are real life friends and family. To succeed Buzz needs to get that 100% figure down substantially, and the quicker, the better.
I’m not going to knock the lack of features is Buzz because it is a new product that will grow those features quickly. Although I do think it should have been put out with a few less bugs and a little more intuitive usability from day one. Noise is an issue and noise can kill a product in my opinion. That needs to be resolved quickly. Some say their speed in bringing Buzz to market, warts and all, is brave. That’s a fair point. I think it’s also a fair point to describe that strategy as a little risky. But sometimes even bad publicity attracts enough attention to generate a positive number of new users.
So I am going to sit on the fence. I’ll play with Buzz and enjoy it. It’s a great idea and I’ve had some interesting conversations on there already. I’m enjoying the way it handles Flickr content and look forward to see how they take that forward. But it’s up to Google to bring my real life network onto their social network. It’s up to Google to match and surpass Facebook for usable, useful and productive features. If they can do that, they may well succeed. If they can’t, then they probably won’t – no matter how good the product or how much time and money they throw at it.