As announced last week, Google have finally done the inevitable, shutting down Google Buzz. Good riddance, says I. When it launched, I was sorely unimpressed, both with the style of its launched (remember how it advertised every contact you ever mailed?) and of the quality of the implementation itself.
For example, Google Buzz sent me a mail message whenever I posted something on it. Good grief – the fact that I've posted it should be enough of a clue that perhaps I knew what I said? I, like many others, ended up setting e-mail rules just to delete any and all mail that came from Buzz that had my name in it, just so I wouldn't get notified of my own buzzes.
When it launched, the API was pretty sparse (and hey, look – they repeated the same mistake that was Google+). Unfortunately, whilst Google may know a lot about systems they know nothing of platforms, and Buzz was always sitting in a wasteland whilst others, such as Facebook and Twitter, took off.
Google Buzz 2.0: Also known as Google+, though slightly less googleable. I have absolutely no idea why they ran these for different periods of time. It would be like Apple continuing to run iTools after MobileMe was announced, or continuing to run MobileMe after iCloud was announced. Apple has a switchover date – with a period of testing for developers and other interested users – but when the Big Switch happens, it's on with the new and off with the old. Yes, things can go wrong (Exhibit A: Mobile Mess) but at least you know there's a transition, and the data is migrated automatically.
The real question is why Google didn't kill off Buzz earlier. Perhaps it's a case of different teams fighting for fiefdom in the Google realm, or maybe it's just that the Buzz team turned into the Plus team and didn't think about turning the lights off as they left the room.
The real problem, of course, is that Google+ is exactly the same as Google Buzz. Yes, there's a snazzier UI for letting you follow, but as with politics, it's out with the old and in with the same old new. The key issue is that it is exactly backwards from what it needs to be. Even the name suggests this to be the case; you follow someone, you don't ask them to follow you. But that's exactly the UI that you have in Google+, other than the Public scope.
The chance of someone being interested in this exact set (or a superset, let's be fair) is pretty close to zero. If I were to publish everything on Insert Social Network Here, I would kill off many followers that I have. I'm guessing that a fair proportion of people who follow my blog pick up on one of the specific feeds – such as the gtotw or eclipse or osgi feeds.
What Circles really needs is a way of saying “Here are a set of things that I write about; add yourself to them” That way, if someone wants to learn more about Git but doesn't want to hear about OSGi, then they can do so. I can then target posts I make to that group to specifically address the Git posts, instead of the wide ranging ones.
That doesn't diminish the need for a Public group, nor does it stop the requirement for having private groups, though the private ones can accidentally go public, as Steve Yegge recently found.
What we really need is an upgrade to Google to support arbitrary tags. These can be the names of existing circles, or yet-to-be-created circles. A circle can either be public or private; in the former case, anyone can opt in/out but in the latter case, you have control over who will opt in.
When I post an item, I just give it a list of tags. I may choose to use ZFS or Eclipse or OSGi, and followers of those circles will see that post. If the post isn't also tagged as public, then only those will see it.
I can thus manage my groups to the set of private circles I want (i.e. mostly 'Friends' and 'Family) and any other circle gets automatically created and membership managed by those who want to receive notifications.
Unfortunately, it looks like too much emphasis was given to UI and not enough to usability. There is an entirely different aspect between UI and usability which seems to have been missed by the designers of the Google+ infrastructure. For example, when I post something, it takes a good few seconds (depending on network connection speed) from clicking on the 'Post an update' button to actually writing something. Why it needs to do any kind of network connectivity at this point is beyond me. There should be a way of putting flat tags in, with perhaps a background notification indicating if a tag represented a new circle or not – but it shouldn't let a post be prohibited just because it needs to find a list.
The notifications in Google+ drive me batshit insane. The red box number at the top of the screen has become a pointless red box – regardless of whether there's something interesting to see or not, it always highlights a non-zero number. This is often because people have started to follow me, but there is absolutely no setting which says 'STFU' and only let me focus on the things that I want to see. If anyone knows how to get rid of that damn red box, please leave a message in the comments. To quote an anonymous Twitter comment, “Google+ has gone from a way of sharing information to a way of being annoyed by notifications”