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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.