Tag Archives: Google Buzz

In Defense of Buzz

Here again comes one of those topics so exhaustively masticated by the blogosphere that, at this point, linking to individual commentaries would require dissertation-like concentration. To instead summarize, the evolution of commentary on Google’s new (yet integrated) app, “Buzz,” looked something like this:

  1. Release Day: “Google has a new product. It’s pretty much like Twitter. Or Facebook. But with mail.”
  2. Release Day +4 hours: “Google’s new product is boring.”
  3. Day Two: “Google’s new product exposes nominally private information to the public? This is a travesty!”
  4. Day Two+: Outrage, outrage, outrage

To this allow me to add Step 5: Google’s “Buzz launch wasn’t flawed, Google’s intentions are.” As we’ve noted before, this kind of synecdoche – magnifying something minor into an allegory for the entire operation – is pretty much the last refuge of journalism, the penultimate refuge of tech journalism, and the first refuge of bestselling literature (actually, I’ve never said this last part before, but it can be inferred). In an effort to avoid hypocrisy, however, allow me to take umbrage with a specific aspect of this “Kontra” person’s formulation, which is notable primarily because it was picked up (read: published) by the All Things Digital wing of Newscorp by way of the Wall Street Journal. To wit:

In its urgency to offer a me-too product, Buzz confuses the read/unread email paradigm with real-time messaging stream like Twitter. It adds insult to injury by co-mingling various cognitive spheres like blogs, photos, videos, status, etc into thin soup delivered through an unceasing firehose. The final blow is the embarrassingly unfocused layout: the complete absence of visual hierarchy and progressive disclosure, overabundance of visual cues/links for action, and clumsiness in using white space to strip away meaningful information density.

Comparing Google to Microsoft, as the article does, is fine. Insofar as we’re discussing corporate strategies, and corporate entities, it’s an entirely reasonable formulation, especially if you truly believe that their short and long term strategies are mutually ruinous, or at least, uninspired. That Microsoft’s entry into the smartphone marketplace is being lauded by the tech press should render part of that interpretation dubious, but whatever. That Apple is pretty much the only tech company not lambasted by this post, except indirectly (ie, “there are those” – that is, not the author – “who would call Apple ‘evil'”), should be even more suspect, but fine, I’ll get over it. I’m an adult. I read things on the internet. Disassembling bias is part and parcel of what I do.

But this is a rhetorical blunder, and one that is deeply, intuitively, and, dare I say, intentionally flawed. If Google’s design choices are staid, then they ought not to be declaimed for actively attempting to unite a variety of concepts in interesting ways. The stark, absolute demarcation between “cognitive spheres like blogs, photos, videos, status” is intellectually unambitious, for it assumes that each of these spheres needs, inherently, to remain separate, and it cloaks the baldness of the assumption with pseudo-intellectual vocabulary (cognitive spheres?) obscure enough to actually reward the faulty assumption. Such a mindset fails to acknowledge the fact that so many of the forms of media life that we now encounter are themselves hybridized representations of other, earlier forms. What are blogs? Etymologically, “web logs,” with all the Livejournal-esque solipsism that that entails, but now the form has come to accommodate a separate, distilled way of accessing news. Blogs can, in principle, win the Pulitzer Prize. Ross Douthat’s NYT blog is about a thousand times more compelling than his actual editorial content (and I mean that in the nicest way possible). Would it make sense for me to throw up arbitrary divisions between my “cognitive sphere” of newsreading and that of blog perusal? Of course not. So why should the same standard be applied to Google?

Personally I find this sort of conceptual amalgamation compelling, since I have no need for Twitter, and yet a solid portion of my day is spent either reading news articles or formulating correspondence. At least within my circle of acquaintances, I can tell that the level of discourse via Buzz is different than it is over my Facebook feed (or in my brief flirtation with Twitter). For whatever reason, people seem to respond to the material in a different way, or are more willing to parse what other people are saying at length when they aren’t corralled into a narrow character limit, or aren’t cognitively (a ha!) coached that their comment is just about as relevant as the fact that someone from high school became a fan of Dos Equis. What I’m interested in is the level of discourse, and how it sustains itself. This would inevitably prove more revolutionary – more innovative – than some fresher appeal to my real-time, micro-vlog paradigm, or whatever other need to communicate runs so deep that I didn’t even know that I had it yet. But my enthusiasm is only partial; it’s qualified by the fact that time, and the public, need to enact my private convictions before they can be rendered true. That’s the sort of intellectual openness that the notion I’m fighting back against can’t admit.

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