No Buzz about Buzz? Google’s Hits and Misses

Last night I saw on my facebook news feed that top gear were asking if anyone had Google Buzz. I went through the comments on the article up to that point. Most of them fell into 3 distinct categories: foolish joke, saying buzz is dead or pointless or arguing about who was the first.

Forget the first and third types of comments. The second is a very interesting thing. I’ve written about this before. I believe that Google often find themselves in a position where they produce products or services which are good or even perhaps great in prospect, but then when it comes down to it, they’re just too geeky for the mainstream audience, or are going after a market that is being dominated by someone else, or multiple other parties. In this case, Twitter and to a lesser extent, Facebook.

Google Buzz is yet another in a long line of Google services that just don’t really seem to catch on for a multitude of reasons. Google dominate in search. Other than search, they struggle to make anything which really makes a big impact after the hype has died down.

The exceptions to this that I can think of are Gmail, Google Docs, Apps for your domain, Reader, Calendar, Chrome browser, Chrome OS (hopefully), iGoogle, YouTube, Maps and Translate. All of these are great products that I use every day and almost couldn’t live without. There are of course many other good ones, but they’re the more experimental ones which aren’t available for everyone. This is quite a long list of great products. The issue is that for all the successes, there are a lot of average to poorly received ones.

Google is a company that takes risks and that’s why there are a lot of unsuccessful products. A company like Apple on the other hand, are more cautious when releasing new things. They generally only announce something when it’s absolutely ready and they are comfortable that it will be well received.

Now for the misses. Google Wave is the obvious first one. In theory, like buzz it offers a lot. But in the end, it may be both too confusing for the average user, and also ahead of it’s time.

Other misses include: Google Talk, Friend Connect, Google News, Blogger, Groups, Picasa and Orkut.

The differences between the hits and misses are that the hits are all the best around at what they do, or at least comparable to the market leaders. The misses all lack a certain something which prevents them from becoming much more successful. I will now talk individually about each of these products and what I think is causing them to struggle.

Google Talk is great for talking in the browser using text in Gmail and iGoogle. You can use it with iChat on the Mac to voice and using a browser plugin, you can do voice and video, which is cool but apps like Skype really excel at making the whole experience of text, voice and video simple and as easy to understand as possible. Other IM clients have been around seemingly forever and also offer the same things. Sometimes tradition stops things from progressing. Google Talk may be a little hard done by then, but I think there are still more things that they can do to make it better. It may be too late for them to step into that market and really dominate the way Apple tend to do though.

Friend Connect is an interesting one. On one hand it does offer some interesting social features to almost any website. My problem with it is that it is quite hard to understand and not really well marketed. It looks to me like more of a hobby and not a serious product that they really want people to be using.

Google News does the job of delivering news from around the web in one place, with customization options and more, surely this is a good product. It is, but it seems a bit dated now and, like friend connect, it doesn’t look to me like Google are really trying to improve it at all, leaving it to stagnate.

Blogger is a simple one. They were once the kings of the blogging world. Google bought the company and really haven’t done that much with it since then. WordPress offers much more customization and far better themes. Tumblr is fun to use, incredibly simple and well made, also with very stylish designs. Blogger is stagnating in a big way and they need to shake it up soon or risk it becoming obsolete.

Groups seems to be another product that has been left out in the cold so to speak. Groups now are a part of every social network like Facebook where creating and joining groups is quick and simple. It doesn’t feel like there is a place for groups anymore.

Picasa isn’t really a bad product. The issue with it is that it doesn’t really do anything that you can’t do in Mac or Windows 7 already. Macs all come with iPhoto which is a great image editing software. Windows Photo Gallery in Windows 7 looks similar to iPhoto and Picasa in terms of features. Picasa may be better than the windows alternative, especially on older machines but I haven’t tested it recently. As far as online sharing goes, Flickr has been the standard for all kinds of photography from serious shots in high quality to shots of friends with a phone camera for a long time. Facebook is more for casual photo sharing but also offers a very good solution. iPhoto integrates well with both services seamlessly. Picasa does serve a purpose, but only for a small number of people I would assume.

Orkut is a social network that occasionally gets mentioned but it’s never really been a huge success in this part of the world. It’s a bit like Bebo in a way, because it’s still going even though no one is really talking about it.

Overall, I think Google need to take a look at what they’re doing, and really focus on what they can do better than anyone else. Perhaps instead of rolling out service after service and causing a kind of google fatigue in a way, they should sometimes concede defeat and work with others more than they currently do, to really make peoples’ internet lives easier and more fun.

They also need to really take a look at all their good products and try to eliminate overlapping of features across them. For example, Google Wave, Docs, Talk and Gmail, not to mention Buzz all have plenty of features in common. As they move forward with development of each, they need to keep in mind a clear vision of what each one is for. If they can’t figure that out, they can merge things together in a way that makes sense to users.