I’m sorry but the internet is starting to suck
Another week, another internet service that needs joining to see what the hype’s about. The web was supposed to make life easier, but all it seems to be doing lately is inventing more ways to bombard people with babble.
Google Buzz‘s launch last week was wrapped in an increasingly familiar aura. As with the iPad launch, there was huge excitement from some nerdy types but a resounding verdict from much of the public has been a sigh and a shrug.
Instead of capitalising on excitement, new products have to overcome fatigue. There’s the effort setting up yet another profile, then somehow remembering to check back on it in between reading the news, monitoring tweets, Facebook status updates, doing the footy tipping, watching that Hitler video everyone’s talking about and getting to your reading recommendations all while trying to manage your phone and email inbox.
And as for LinkedIn – what’s going on there? Has it ever done anything for anybody?
Google must take some of the blame for lowering the bar on what to expect from new toys. Wave, which launched late last year, was supposed to provide a way for people to collaborate on a document remotely and (apologies for the buzz-phrase) in “real time”. But instead of being a crowded, creative space where people jam on text, Wave is an echochamber. Digital tumbleweed doesn’t make a good co-author.
When something like Buzz comes along it deserves a look on the off-chance it’s the Big One, the product that will turn out to be the next Facebook or YouTube and forever change how people consume media.
Buzz lives in your Gmail inbox and is essentially Twitter on steroids – longer messages, photos and videos displayed on the page you’re looking at, not on another site. You choose people to follow on it, and they follow you, and in the stream that shows up as a result you see what people are “buzzing” about.
It is also available on your phone where you can access buzz content based on your location. This gives rise to the depressing prospect of geo-spam, as marketers broadcast messages clamouring for your attention as you walk down the street.
On a diet? Buzz! The sandwich shop you’re passing specialises in bacon and egg rolls with melted cheese. In a bank? Buzz! A note from a Nigerian who has millions of dollars he wants to dump in your account. Passing Bunnings? Buzz! A special on masonry nails. Yoink.
Digital evangelists who see this kind of contextual information – again, sorry for the jargon but it’s known as “augmented reality” – as being such an obviously brilliant idea that everyone’s just going to want and like it.
But with Google trying to muscle in on real-time messaging there’s the potential for a kind of digital tribal warfare, creating divisions between the Twits and the Twit-nots, the Buzzers and Buzz-nots, the Facebookers and the … I won’t even write it.
If you’re a Buzzer rather than a Facebooker – and there’s no sign the two are going to be integrated soon – when you meet someone from the opposite tribe that you want to keep in touch with, there’s a question. How long can you hold out before succumbing and setting up an account with the other tribe of time vampires?
In 2008 web consultant Clay Shirky coined the phrase “filter failure” to describe information overload problem created by the web. It’s not that there’s too much information but the filters on don’t work properly. By going after Facebook and deciding not to link Buzz accounts with the world’s most popular social network, Google is doing nothing to address this unmet need to focus all the information a user needs into a single access point.
With some 400 million users worldwide, analysts recently declared Facebook close to achieving what the QWERTY keyboard has done – achieving “technological lock-in” where the thing becomes the standard despite its deficiencies. In Facebook’s case, the problems are its confusing controls for privacy settings, and how you adjust the site to you see the stuff you really want. (Facebook’s other problem is the creepiness of the friend suggestions – how does it know I once met that person climbing up a hill in Malaysia? – but that’s for another column.)
If Buzz takes off – and I must say after using it for a few days I reckon it has potential – will people be forced to use both of them?
There’s some awe at the multi-tasking capabilities of younger web users who manage to juggle multiple instant-messaging conversations and maintain their presence on Facebook and Bebo and whatever else.
But one thing young people have plenty of is time. It’s hard to see the 20-year-old who spends hours playing World of Warcraft and chatting with friends being able to start a solid family and have a good career without trading in some of the time he spends typing LOL.
As I wrote about the iPad, I think content rather than platform will be the decisive factor driving people’s choices on the media services they use and this applies to social networking too. Twitter has worked for finding out what’s going on and real-time commentary on events. Facebook is good for gossip and news from friends. What is Buzz’s strength going to be – and more importantly, will that be useful enough for people to stick with it?
The jury’s out on the content of Buzz - it does integrate with Twitter, which is a start - but what it has done is potentially start a tribal war among consumers where everyone without a tent in both social camps could be missing out. Even if Buzz falls flat, another challenger is bound to come along.
So, internet, please give us a breakthrough that solves this. A one-stop shop where everything’s in one place and we don’t need to remember dozens of usernames and passwords, and preferably works from the phone and the TV too.
It’s not too much to ask, is it?
Follow me on Twitter: @colgo
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