R. Galbraith / Reuters-Landov
Google co-founder Sergey Brin at the unveiling of Google Buzz
God bless those hard-working techies in Silicon Valley for inventing this constant stream of things that serve mostly to make me feel guilty because I don’t want to use them even though everyone else says they’re the greatest thing ever. First came Facebook, which I joined but rarely use, and now has become just one more e-mail inbox that I need to check once in a while. Then came Twitter, which is mostly pointless, since I really don’t care what anyone else is doing at any particular moment and have no desire to tell others what I’m doing either, but again I joined, mostly because if I didn’t get on Twitter I’d look like someone who doesn’t “get it,” as they say in the Valley, and in my line of work that’s a bad reputation to have. Next came Facebook games like Mafia Wars and FarmVille, and again I joined so I could see what the big deal was, only to find that the big deal was, well, not such a big deal, and I never used them because who has time to play online games, but now every time I go to Facebook I get bombarded with messages informing me that someone I don’t know has sent me an energy pack, and in general Facebook is becoming so overwhelmed with spam and useless junk that the noise-to-signal ratio is about 100 to 1. Then came Google Wave, and again I signed up, but as far as I can tell nobody is actually using Google Wave, mostly because nobody can figure out what it does or how it works, so that it exists only as a catnip toy for new media wanker-pundits who love it because it gives them something to blather on about, plus it provides them with yet another weapon in their arsenal of things that can be used to make lesser folks, like me, feel yet more guilty and left behind.
And now, ta-da, comes Google Buzz, announced yesterday, and I swear to God I just want to start screaming. What is it? Apparently it is Gmail on steroids. Basically, Google has copied stuff that people do on Facebook and Twitter and added them to Gmail, so that now my e-mail can become another place where I can network socially with my social network of people I don’t really even know. I can (but won't) share pictures and status updates with people in my Gmail contacts list, and they can (and, sadly, will, unless I can prevent them) start doing the same to me. Google's promo video, complete with the requisite cutesy drawings and happy music and groovy-guy voice-over, was intended to make it all sound perfectly simple but instead had me reaching for the Xanax. Good grief.
Why, Google? Why take a perfectly wonderful e-mail system and pollute it by adding a zillion new things to it? I’m not looking for more clutter in my life. I’m looking for less. At the launch event some Google exec claimed Buzz is a way to “find the signal in the social networking noise,” but to me it looks like Google is just adding to the noise.
Why does Buzz even exist? Is it because Google wants to make my life better in some way? No. Buzz exists because Google feels threatened by Twitter and Facebook and wants to kill them. Google has become what Microsoft used to be—the Borg, the company that gobbles up ideas from smaller rivals and cranks out lame imitations in an attempt to put the little guys out of business.
That is the biggest problem with Buzz—it was invented not for us but for Google. So now, because Google feels threatened, we have yet another thing to learn, which won’t be easy because Google is basically a world where nerd engineers get turned loose in a Montessori preschool, and they have no idea about user interface design and, frankly, they don’t care.
Instead of aping Microsoft, Google should take a page from Apple’s playbook. Sure, Steve Jobs is a control freak. But at least Apple remembers that computers were originally intended to make our lives easier—not provide us with ever-more-pointless chores.