A freebie for Google

January 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Eric’s out, Larry’s in, and everyone’s armchair quarterbacking through the last few years.

So here’s a play as I would have called it.

Buzz should have been rolled out by invitation, just like Gmail and Wave. Remember how excited people were to be get a look at those? Sure, Wave’s dead now, but it would have been DOA if the whole world had at it on day 1. With Wave and Gmail, Google showed rare canniness about how to spread free new technologies while benefiting from early user feedback. Start with a savvy user base that’s keen to get a look at your stuff and build in the kind of scarcity that comes with beta testing. Let friends tell friends at a trickle. Work out the kinks in semi-shadow, then roll out a near-perfect product to masses who are itching to do what the mavens have been buzzing about. 

I would have launched Buzz by dropping invitations into the Gmail accounts of users of Google Reader, aka. the user group who’s going to be filling Buzz with content that will be of interest to their friends, aka. the people next in line for invitations to Buzz.

Instead, Buzz was turned on, maddeningly, for everyone at once, virtually guaranteeing that mutual bewilderment between users whose clothes might as well have vanished spontaneously and simultaneously would completely overshadow the contributions of a tiny number active users who were filling the channel with interesting content. From the start, Buzz wasn’t a place where you shared cool stuff with your friends; it was a goddamn Hieronymus Bosch painting most of us wanted to escape.

Why, of all the missteps Google’s taken over the past few years, do I care so much about Buzz? Because the other news this week out of Google is that they knocked the link for Reader into the miscellaneous “more” drop-down in Gmail, and shared content Reader is most of what you’ll find in my Buzz feed. It’s absurd that while people fumble with various solutions for keeping up with content delivered through Twitter and Facebook, RSS, a mature technology that Google Reader manages magnificently, is put out to pasture. Buzz could easily have been positioned as a gateway to Google Reader and an opening up of RSS to the masses. But Google’s been inconsistent on demonstrating an understanding of how social networks actually work, and so much the worse for Gmail-using Facebookers and Twitterers whose lives would have been improved (horizons broadened, minds expanded, etc.) by the 5-minute tutorial on RSS they’re never going to get.
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