that’s ‘as in buzz saw’

February 12, 2010

Google Buzz. It doesn’t sound good, does it. It bounced uninvited into my gmail inbox this week, along with a very irritating, unignorable logo, and sat there giving me a running tally of new ‘messages’ and ‘followers’. In bold. It was like a little troll sitting there. When clicked, it revealed (in a confusing screen) that I was somehow following some people, without having ever decided to follow them. And they were following me, even though I’d never said anything. They were sort of saying things, mostly, ‘hello? hello? what’s this for?’ I do at least know who all of them are, but I still felt just a teensy, weensy little bit spied on and used.

Is that a surprise? With Google? Really?

Anyway, it turns out – not that they told me themselves, you understand – that you can turn Buzz off, if you go all the way down to the bottom of your gmail page, and look at the tiny print there. There’s a little bit of tiny print that says ‘turn off buzz’. So I did. It immediately vanished, and took its annoying logo with it. Ahhhh!

After I did that I saw this excellent blog post. Suw Charman-Anderson has thought longer and more carefully about Google Buzz than I ever hope to, and she lays out all the different ways in which it is compromising your privacy. Some of them are quite serious. Google Buzz makes public your most frequently emailed contacts and even your exact street location. It is hard to modify settings and it has no central control panel; Google is relying on people not changing the settings. My own experience was that it didn’t give me any information at all. It automatically connects you to other Google-owned sites. It even, alarmingly, allows people to follow you anonymously – so you can’t even go into their page to block them!

Suw has a very good take on what it’s like having this distracting little monster sitting right under your inbox:

Email is causing significant problems for people, not just because of the volume of email we get these days but because dopamine circuits in our brain encourage us to seek new information and cause us to check our email more often than we realise. Every time we check email, we waste about 64 seconds getting back into doing what we were doing before. Some people check email every 5 minutes. That’s an 8-hour day each week that we waste in mental limbo. Email is a significantly counter-productive tool yet it’s our default for almost all communications. By adding in a new source of random reward – Buzz – Google have made their inbox even more addictive and unproductive. Not only do you have a new unread Buzz messages count to lure you into checking and rechecking, Buzz also tangles up Buzz replies with your email…

If you’re like me you’ll find this a compelling case against Google Buzz all on its own. At least Facebook and Twitter are in separate programmes. At least you know why you use them: because you decided to. For a reason. There are more than enough things going on in the average computer these days to keep you from getting stuff done; they only work because you have the power to decide how, and when, to use them. Google Buzz seems to be doing away with all that. It wants to sit in your face.

Suw concludes:

I haven’t even begun with the usability problems Buzz has. How poorly considered the interface is. How annoying it is when your Buzz stream is flooded with someone’s Google Reader output. But I do have a cure:

Go to the bottom of your screen and click “Turn off Buzz”.

Here at Text Pixels we second that! And don’t get me started on Google Books.

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