The Fatal Flaw in the Google Buzz Interface

Is "fatal flaw" too strong a term?  Maybe.  Then again, maybe not.

First off, what is Google Buzz?  It's Google's new shot-across-the-bow to Facebook and Twitter, an attempt to integrate real-time web interactions with the well-known and widely-used Gmail interface.

However, Buzz does two things that will simply make it unusable.

  1. It shows threaded conversations and strongly highlights the initiator of those conversations, and makes the comments subservient to the initial post.
  2. It takes posts that have "new" comments and immediately bumps those posts to the topmost position of the viewing window.

This interface will greatly reinforce the existing power law relationships online, and have the effect of greatly reducing the serendipity and interestingness in things like the current Twitter and Facebook interfaces. 

With Buzz, those who (a) have a large number of followers, and (b) post frequently will always bubble up to the top of the stack, crowding out everything else.  Currently, I'm following about 200 people, which (you would think) would give me a great diversity in my stream.  However, the top twenty one spots of my Buzz feed are held by:

  • Chris Messina
  • Jason Calacanis
  • Jason Calacanis
  • Josh Druck
  • Jason Calacanis
  • Francine Hardaway
  • Derek Powazek
  • Steve Rubel
  • Robert Scoble
  • Brady Smith
  • Robert Scoble
  • Robert Scoble
  • Michael Elliot
  • Rex Hammock
  • Josh Druck
  • Josh Druck
  • Chris Pirillo
  • Josh Druck
  • Josh Druck
  • Josh Druck
  • Danny Sullivan

Worse, whenever anyone makes a comment in any of those threads, that thread pops back to the top.

In other words, it appears one can never get past the most chatty threads.  They'll always bounce back to the top.  Those individuals with many connections will almost always have the chattiest threads.  Ergo, the Buzz interface will, in its current incarnation, always be dominated by those with the largest, chattiest networks.

Screen shot 2010-02-10 at 3.01.31 PM 

Can Google figure out a way to turn off that "always bubble the newest to the top" feature?  Of course they can.  And they need to.  If they don't, Buzz instantly becomes an echo-chamber of the highest-order, and becomes completely unusable.

8 Replies to “The Fatal Flaw in the Google Buzz Interface”

  1. Agreed, this is going to detrimental to the way people find new and interesting things and just creates a “Top 40” of the same repetitive information.

  2. I suppose I’ll see that effect eventually. For now, I don’t have enough contacts on Buzz to see it. I agree that it would make Buzz a terrible replacement for Twitter, but maybe that’s not the point. Buzz may be aiming for a different niche. It might be useless in cases like the one you describe, but there are other scenarios where the “pop to the top” effect is desirable – like business.

  3. I still feel for the aspect of multidimensional functions, Friendfeed still leads the pack. However, they are not innovating. To just read real news, Google Reader is my choice. I’d still like a way to filter down all the connections selectively regarding showing me shared items in Reader though. But with Gmail being the platform that integrates buzz – they’ve just brought a huge majority of new users into lifestreaming with Buzz. I’d like to see much innovation done here still, starting with more user controls, then the multi-dimensional aspect, and turning off the junk in my inbox without me filtering it instead.

  4. the only way buzz will succeed in my book is if i keep it for close friends or business only, because i don’t want to share my email with everyone in the world. but having something else to update or keep track of will just be annoying. this seems like a compromise between gmail and wave, which i don’t know if we really need.

  5. Why didn’t they integrate Google Wave in the same way as Buzz? I never know what’s going on with Wave unless I connect to it directly, but Buzz has an icon with the number of unread messages right there on the left side navigation in gmail.

    That said, I’m not too impressed with Buzz, I’m still waiting for the one app that connects them all, twitter, facebook, flickr, yelp and youtube.

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