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Stop the buzz!

Here’s the thing: I don’t get social networking.

A friend of mine whom I got in touch with after a long time told me off quite sharply for not being on Orkut or Facebook. Apparently, he had scoured the social webs looking for me. It didn’t occur to him to Google me, which would’ve led him quite easily to my blog or public website.

A news source whose top headline on any given day may be that a casual acquaintance (who’s name I cannot match to a face) has just acquired three pigs on his virtual farm does not spark my interest. Nor does it amuse me to learn that twenty-three other complete strangers “like” the fact that this casual acquaintance of mine has just acquired three pigs on his virtual farm. Well, maybe it amuses me a bit. That I’m expected to devote any serious attention and time to a page full of such stories is, to me, laughable.

Sure, 350 million people and counting disagree with me, and that’s fine. It’s a free Internet. As long as I’m not forced to use Facebook any more than I want to, I can keep my information as private as I want and most importantly, I can delete my Facebook account any time I want to, I’m happy.

Along comes Google Buzz. Whatever may be wrong with it, they named it perfectly, though I’m sure they didn’t mean “low-pitched irritating, senseless and humming noise that bees make”. That’s the perfect description of what a social network these days is like: there’s just so much noise that even any tidbits of useful information get completely lost.

Nothing else about it feels right. I’ve no problem with another social network on the web. I get it: there is pots of money in social search and networking; so Google wants in. Some even find this a unique and useful service. But did they have to do something that left me feeling screwed over?

I was signed up for a social network automatically when I didn’t want to be. Even before I knew about Buzz, people had started ‘following’ me on Buzz, and other people were informed that I was following them. Even worse, anyone who was following me could see the list of people that “I was following”. Lets make this clear — “I” had no intent or even knowledge of following anybody. Yet the statement “Anshul is following these people” clearly indicates deliberate action and intent on my part, and therefore for Google to make that statement was just factually wrong and untrue. And letting anyone who was “following” me (without my consent or knowledge) have a peek at my most frequent contacts… words fail me. That three-letter three-word motto of a famous search engine company? The opposite of that.

So, when I did figure out that there was this thing called Buzz, I turned off all the stuff it was sharing on Buzz about me (Picasa photos and Google Reader links), I modified my profile not to show anyone whom I was connected to, and finally, I turned off Buzz in Gmail. It was a bit disturbing that it was down in the fine print section. How come obscure labs features get their own settings page and something like Buzz doesn’t?

Unfortunately, people can still follow me on Buzz. True, as of now nothing will be posted since I’ve turned Buzz off; but just knowing that I can be followed by someone makes me feel quite uneasy, especially given this background.

Here’s the worst part — Buzz is tied to Gmail, something that I not only love using, but something I’m basically tied to. Almost all of my email activity — personal friends, blog comments, former work colleages, internet banking, utility bills, credit cards, travel booking — goes through GMail. I can delete my Facebook account in a heartbeat, but for me to dissociate myself from Gmail would be extremely difficult. It is easier to change my physical address (I know, I’m moving house in a couple of weeks) than to change my primary email address. Here’s hoping that Google will iron out the privacy issues sooner rather than later, and let us choose to live without the buzz.

7 Comments

  1. Sherene wrote:

    I keep on top of my personal email on my Blackberry during the week and spend significant amount of time on Gmail only over weekends, so I’m yet to log on and see what Buzz is like – it sure seems like a lot of noise, even the most ardent fans of social media/networking have been moaning. That they automatically sign people up as followers and display inaccurate info is shocking – I had better go check out my settings ASAP!

    Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Permalink
  2. I am so glad you wrote about this! There are so many things irritating about Buzz. And the most screwed up part was them telling all the @gmail.com folks in my addressbook (like say random folks whose address happens to be in my contacts) that I was “following” them even when I had not touched a single setting. All I had done was hesitantly pressed the button to “try” Buzz. That is all!

    Email (and thus the Gmail mailbox) has always been a private domain. Each conversation there is between me and a small set of people. I totally hated how Buzz appeared today morning and within minutes I was “feeling” like it had torn a hole in this perception of privacy, with its public messages and chatter.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 10:53 pm | Permalink
  3. Anshul wrote:

    @Sherene – yeah, it’s weird that you have to be proactive to protect your information like this. Also, if you ever access Gmail via Blackberry – be very careful, apparently just one click will let all your posts on Buzz be identified to your exact location.

    @Ashwin – you hit the nail on the head. I suspect however, that given the lead that Facebook and Twitter already have, Google chose this path deliberately to achieve the exact effect you observed – being inundated with information overnight. At the expense of user choice and privacy.

    You’re definitely right that there was a ‘perception’ of privacy in Gmail that has been eroded. Even more, I work very hard to keep my Gmail Inbox clean – I’ve set up extensive filters just to ensure that only really important mail ever comes to my Inbox, which is open all hours of the day; and I respond to a new message almost immediately. Even if Buzz didn’t have any privacy issues I wouldn’t use it simply because apparently it sends messages directly to your Inbox by default and I simply don’t want public chatter over there.

    Friday, February 12, 2010 at 2:03 am | Permalink
  4. Sonia wrote:

    It seems like the work of a google employee trying hard to earn some browny points.

    I was reading stuff off Google Reader on my iPhone and I saw that I was on Buzz even though I have ‘disconnected’ Reader from Buzz and am OFF buzz. And then suddenly Safari asked me that ‘this website wants to know your current location’. Excuse me !!!

    The more I was using Reader, Picassa, iGoogle, I had this feeling that it was going to come back to bite me and alas it did. Should I stop using Gmail now ? :(

    Friday, February 12, 2010 at 2:46 am | Permalink
  5. Anshul wrote:

    @Sonia: Yup, apparently there is no way to be off the grid.

    One thing you can do is delete your public Google profile if you have one. That at least stops Google from putting up whatever info Google likes out there (Buzz followers were automatically put up to the profile).

    Friday, February 12, 2010 at 3:17 am | Permalink
  6. Same here. My Gmail is tightly managed, in Inbox Zero style. Since Buzz happened, I am actually thinking of Gmail alternatives. Sadly there are none good enough left standing.

    Saturday, February 13, 2010 at 12:20 am | Permalink
  7. Balah wrote:

    I am entranced!! Privately, I am couirus to know about her hair and how the pink comes to be. Also, are her walls painted celery green? It seems the perfect background for the fiber flourishes. You are so lucky to have the opportunity to get to know someone like Debra. xxoo Patty

    Monday, November 30, 2015 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

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