Google May Offer Buzz Independently From Gmail

Google says it may allow people to participate in Google Buzz without having it integrated within Gmail, in addition to offering a combined Gmail service. That may be a welcome move for users of both products, especially in light of the substantial privacy concerns voiced this week about Google Buzz.

“It’s clear that interest in Buzz may extend beyond the current Gmail base, and we’re open to serving that community,” said Bradley Horowitz, Google’s VP of Product Marketing, when I spoke to him about some Buzz issues at the TED Conference.

Horowitz stressed that Google would still offer a version of Buzz within Gmail, in addition to any independent version.

“We think that Buzz within Gmail is a great experience, and we’ll keep offering that as well,” Horowitz said.

Trademarks, “Big Names” & Buzz

One issue with Buzz is that it may be difficult for companies to have profiles that match their trademarks, or famous people might have similar issues. Indeed, anyone who is established on one social network may discover that their name on the new Google Buzz network is long gone, since Buzz uses names that are linked to Gmail accounts. (See The Giant Mess Of Mixing Gmail Addresses With Google Buzz/Profile Names for more about this).

By offering a version of Buzz separate from Gmail, Google could address some of these issues. Horowitz said that if an independent Buzz system was offered, existing profiles would likely redirect or work with new names that might be registered. There also might be a “landrush” similar to what Facebook did last year, when it allowed people to claim vanity URLs for their profiles. But Google doesn’t have exact plans, only an awareness that some people may want an independent service like this.

Horowitz said Buzz would also continue to ensure people could search and find the “right” people as well.

Buzz & Privacy

Meanwhile, there’s also the privacy issue. Since Buzz is tied to Gmail, people are forced to expose their Gmail address if they want ot have a profile URL that isn’t a string of numbers. And even if they don’t, it turns out there’s apparently still a way that Buzz can give away your Gmail address.

Beyond that, there are the concerns that by scanning through your contacts, Gmail may be exposing people to other privacy concerns by seeming to associate them to people they don’t particularly like or don’t want publicly known.

F*** You, Google is a good example of this, where Harriett Jacobs found that her ex-husband was listed as one of her followers. Some other stories on the privacy topic include:

I’m an example in that last story, a screenshot showing how my exact location was revealed through my Buzz post. Yes, that’s a privacy concern. But in my case, I deliberately chose to reveal that address — I was testing out how that worked. Whenever you do a Buzz post on your phone, your location is suggested as something to post. But you can disable this on a per post basis — and I think (I haven’t had a chance to double-check) that location is never revealed by default.

In terms of how Google auto-followed people, there’s some suggestion that this has given those people access to information they wouldn’t ordinarily find. That’s not the case, to my understanding. Items that might automatically appear on Buzz from external sources were already public. Individual Buzz posts themselves are also public, by default. Followers don’t get any special access to Buzz content unless you choose to make some content within Buzz itself only available to a smaller group. The certainly don’t get access to your Gmail inbox.

Still, I think Google made a mistake in automatically following people and then making those people visible by default. Google tells me there were plenty of warnings this would happen. But for myself, because I first started through the mobile version, I just don’t recall these. The first time I saw my follower list was hours later after my account had been created.

Clearly I wasn’t alone in being confused. I think part of the problem is that this is much different than how things might work for something like Twitter. Yes, at Twitter, your followers will be shown by default. But no one is selected automatically for you — and when you do add someone, you effectively review each and every person.

At any rate, Google has responded quickly to some of the concerns raised this week. In a blog post Thursday, Buzz Product Manager Todd Jackson shared and explained three changes:

  1. More visible option to not show followers/people you follow on your public profile
  2. Ability to block anyone who starts following you
  3. More clarity on which of your followers/people you follow can appear on your public profile

Some users and industry watchers are still unimpressed with Google’s changes. It may be that offering an independent version of Buzz may be Google’s best option to address these ongoing concerns.

Postscript: I’ve substantially updated this article since it first appeared. We never meant to suggest that Google would not ALSO offer a Gmail-linked service, but our headline may have given this impression. That was unintentional, and our apologies about that.

Our original story also suggested that the move of a separate service was being considered out of privacy concerns — that was a mistake, which we quickly corrected to clarify to stress that I’d been talking with Horowitz about the namespace issues.

In the interest of transparency, our original story is below:

Google: We May Remove Buzz From Gmail Content

In light of the substantial privacy concerns voiced this week about Google Buzz, the company says it may separate Buzz from Gmail.

Danny Sullivan has spoken with Bradley Horowitz, Google’s VP of Product Marketing, about some of the Buzz issues at the TED Conference.

One key problem is that Buzz is linked with Gmail, causing some of the privacy issues being raised and also awareness about how brand owners deal with having their trademark terms being taken. (See The Giant Mess Of Mixing Gmail Addresses With Google Buzz/Profile Names on Buzz for more.)

By linking Buzz to Gmail, Google jumped to the conclusion that a user’s email contact book is the same as a social network. For many users, that’s not the case.

Horowitz said Google is considering separating Buzz from Gmail, so that people can participate independently from email. The company might also allow people on Buzz to claim new names and redirect anyone seeking them at their old profiles to the new locations. Horowitz says Google also continues to look at ensuring search is a good way for people to locate the “right” people, as well.

Google has responded quickly to some of the concerns raised this week. In a blog post Thursday, Buzz Product Manager Todd Jackson shared and explained three changes:

  1. More visible option to not show followers/people you follow on your public profile
  2. Ability to block anyone who starts following you
  3. More clarity on which of your followers/people you follow can appear on your public profile

Some users and industry watchers are still unimpressed with Google’s changes. It may be that ending the marriage of Buzz and Gmail is Google’s best option to address these ongoing concerns.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Google: Buzz | Google: Critics | Google: Gmail | Legal: Privacy | Top News

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://cartercole.com Carter Cole

    i want to be able to disable its updates coming in as messages in my inbox and i cant find controls anywhere

  • Todd Jackson

    This article is incorrect.

    Bradley Horowitz was misquoted and is following up with Danny Sullivan and Matt McGee, the author of this post.

  • ppropp

    I’ve now turned off Buzz as much as i can at this point. The whole thing is a disturbing example of over-reaching by a very powerful brand.

    For major brands to be ham-handed in the desire to goose growth is a classic mistake that I’ve talked about in my post “Googles “New Coke” http://bit.ly/aMJige

    I think the folk at Google still don’t understand the can of worms they have opened to a previously loyal base of GMail users. Might be a good time to invest in a fee based e-mail provider…

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