Buzz kill

Google’s “Buzz” is a wonderful feature, one that took me completely by surprise. Out of nowhere, right in the middle of my Gmail session, I found that I’m already enrolled in a Twitter-like social network. Not only that, but I also saw that Google had graciously provided me with people to follow my tweets (buzzes?) and other people for me to follow, all culled from the people I email most often.

I love the boldness of this move. No longer will you need to decide whether you want to be in a Twitter-like social network. Google has already decided that you do. And they’ve even decided who your friends are. None of this old fashioned choosing your own friends nonsense. Such quaint notions are soooo 2009. The best part is that Google makes all of this information public, so that everyone in the world knows who you email regularly.

Some people might object that this is an invasion of privacy — that the entire point of email as a medium is that it is a kind of semi-private space, where you can have conversational exchanges without everyone in the world automatically knowing your business. But those people clearly haven’t gotten with the “buzz”.

I found myself excited by this freedom from having to think for myself, delighted to be rid of the intolerable burden of needing to choose my own lifestyle choices and my own friends. So I called up my friend George Fingler at Google Labs, and asked him if he could give me a sneak peak at what is coming next to our Gmail accounts.

George showed me some pretty cool things, and he told me that it would be ok for me to share them with you, my loyal readers. So let’s take a look at what’s coming next from the people who brought you “Buzz”.

Have you ever wondered what happened to all of those embarrassing digital photos you decided not to upload to the Web? Like that one at the Christmas party where you got drunk and naked and somehow ended up in a compromising position with a rubber chicken? Well, it turns out that all of those pictures are still stored somewhere on your hard drive. In fact, thanks to an advanced disk crawler that you automatically downloaded with your last Gmail upgrade, they are now also sitting on Google servers. As part of its new free service, dubbed “say cheese!”, Google will soon be posting those images of you, at the rate of one per day, to popular social networking sites. Of course you can opt out of this free social networking service if you’d like. Unfortunately, due to the extra maintenance costs involved, the opt-out fee for this service is approximately $1000 per month.

Another cool feature that is soon going to show up soon in your Gmail is Google’s “Shared Telemedicine Database”. This is a feature that automatically displays your complete medical history for people in your extended “friend” network. The upside here is enormous. For example, have you ever wanted to date someone, but weren’t sure if they had genital herpes, or gonorrhea, or one of the various forms of syphilis? Well thanks to Google STD, you can rest easy — the complete medical history of everyone you’ve ever “friended” will show up on a convenient sidebar. And the best part is that every STD will be automatically loaded into your Gmail client when you log on. I have a feeling that this one will be going viral!

But the best feature George showed me was a little something Google calls “meta-search”. This one is pure genius. Basically, every search term you’ve ever typed into Google, from “drug dealers in the greater Seattle area” to “junior high hotties”, will now be available to your ever expanding network of Google friends. And the entire database of those terms is itself searchable (this is Google, after all!). Any time a new friend is added to your Buzz or Google Chat list, a random set of your searches will automatically be forwarded to them. This can be great when you are first starting to work with a new colleague or supervisor, or when you’ve just gone on a first date with someone you really like. After all, isn’t that the perfect time for this person to learn about your interests in “sexy clown pictures” and “interspecies dating tips”?

I’m sure you are as excited by these new developments as I am. Luckily for you, while you were reading this blog post, a Google Ajax client has been loading and embedding these delightful features into your operating system’s kernel. Congratulations, you’ve already opted in. Feel the Buzz!

8 thoughts on “Buzz kill”

  1. Thanks Andras. I’m astonished that Eric Schmidt publicly said something so over-the-top sanctimonious and wrong-headed.

    If I understand him correctly, a direct corollary would be: “If you are fighting corruption or injustice, and you need privacy to be able to do that effectively, maybe you shouldn’t be fighting corruption and injustice in the first place.”

    This is a picture perfect example of an otherwise smart guy being caught in public saying something absolutely idiotic.

  2. Yes, that is true. Yet I find it hard to believe that Google — of all companies — didn’t know exactly what they were doing in foisting such a preemptive roll-out upon us. Remember, this is a company whose very bread and butter depends on a deep understanding of privacy issues.

    I think Google gambled that the controversy among people who realize the privacy issues would be worth the sudden huge jump in “twitterbook” market-share by the much larger group of people who don’t. In effect, this was a land grab.

    The problem is that Google’s calculated risk compromised the privacy of real people. That comment by Eric Schmidt (linked to by Andras in an earlier comment) was deeply disheartening. The entire premise of Schmidt’s statement was predicated on a view of Google users as mere passive entertainment-seeking consumers. The fact that people might require access to privacy for socially and politically constructive purposes seems to be completely off his radar.

  3. I think with this issue we may be looking at just a single crystal on the top of a very deep iceberg.

    I’m reminded of the people who sold Manhattan Island for $24 worth of trinkets.

    And I wonder, are apps, widgets and networked gadgets the trinkets of the 21st century?

    I’m not afraid but I am concerned.

  4. Yes, the line keeps moving over, inch by inch. There is a lot of serious money to be made in convincing people to give up their zone of privacy. This may be not so much the sale of Manhattan but rather something slower and therefore harder to see — the frog sitting in a pot of water where the temperature is drifting ever so gradually upward. By the time the water starts to boil, it will be far, far too late for the frog to jump.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *