Breaking down the Gbuzz

I am aware of the irony of posting about the the buzz on Google Buzz this week. But there’s no other way to contribute than to heap yet more on the pile.

I’ll skip over the many good points that have been raised this week within buzz and alongside it. If you are reading this, you have probably read them.

I want simply to make a few observations about the Buzz user experience, some of which are simply unavoidable, and many of which belong to the “conversation” space in general.

Talk is a difficult thing to facilitate using social tools and services. This is because in addition to the content itself, there are contributors, readers, relationships, audiences, social scenes, and public. And talk is a form of social action. A statement alone is communication. A response is action that communicates. Many kinds of actions involving talk exist (greetings to wedding vows), involving varying degrees of sincerity, expectation, commitment, trust, and so on.

I’m simplifying in order to make the point quickly. Gbuzz, and any other tool in which an original post can accrue responses from known and unknown individuals, over time, exposed to audiences depending on the tool’s particular relation to other services, applications, and devices, will have issues of both content and action.

A lot of people talk about the realtime information and information overload. I view this this content as communication. It therefore has information content and relational content. Furthermore, communication is interpreted by recipients/audiences for two intentions: the act of communicating and the content/information communicated.

This fact of interpretation makes the noise all that more noisy. If Gbuzz (and FB status updates, tweets, and other activity updates) were information and information only, I could read each simply for its information value. Because these are communicative acts, however, I read each for its act as for its content.

If the message is an original post, I may consider responding. If the message is a comment, it is already a response, and I may consider my response (or not) in terms of the relationship between the commenter and the original poster. All of this multiplied for all the people I recognize.

Assuming that in Gbuzz and elsewhere I encounter posts by people I know or know of, or have at least selected…. there is ambiguity in each comment or reply made by somebody I don’t know. Again, there will be two types of ambiguity: content and relation. Not knowing the person I may have more difficulty interpreting the commenter’s statement (content/information). Not knowing the relation, I might not know what to make of it, whether to respond, and if, to respond to the person, and/or what s/he said.

If this seems complicated, then I’m making my point. That being that in conversation tools, issues related to meaning are quickly amplified with each case in which ambiguity may exist around an intentional act of communication as well as solicited response or reaction.

I’ll use “post” to cover status updating, tweeting, buzz posting, etc.
I’ll use “comment” to include replies and comments.

In social interaction terms, ambivalence or ambiguity will exist around:

  • who the author is
  • who the commenter is (involves a relation; and intent)
  • what is said (information alone)
  • what is said relationally (asked for, solicited, impression made, feeling expressed, etc)
  • who it is said to
  • who is supposed (hoped) to see it
  • who is/not to respond

In audience terms, ambivalence and ambiguity will exist around:

  • Who sees it that I know (my followers, contacts, FB friends)?
  • Who else sees it that I don’t know (if RT’d, @replied, searched, FB friend of friend, if Gbuzz commenter to poster, etc)?
  • Where do I post for best visibility within my social scene?
  • Where do I comment to get the author’s attention?
  • Whether this is the best place to create conversation with and around that author
  • Whether this is the best place to comment to be seen commenting to that author
  • Whether this is safe
  • Whether this will be surfaced later in search

In terms of attention, temporality, and speed:

  • Where do I go for the most recent and up-to-date posts/news
  • Where do I go for the most recent and up-to-date responses/commentary
  • Which has the most attentive audience relevant to me
  • Which keeps posts and comments alive?
  • Which is for what’s happening now?
  • Where does the person post where they are now/what they are doing now?

Topicality

  • Which has the most attentive audience by topic, for this topic?
  • Which has the highest quality random commentary?
  • Where should I invest effort in becoming a topical expert or authority?
  • Where should I solicit responses of a topical kind?

Preservation and durability

  • Which service will archive posts?
  • Which service will archive comments?
  • Which service will archive conversations?
  • Which will be searchable?
  • Where are users most likely to search?
  • Which will have topical organization?
  • Which is best to use for reputation building?

I just wanted to break down some of the problems users have expressed with Gbuzz. I’m only just getting started, but will stop here. I hope to have made a couple points clear, however. That talk is a kind of social action in which who we talk to, why, who else is present, and how it appears can all matter as much, or more, than what’s said. And that in tools that facilitate posting original messages, replying or commenting, to or in front of others assembled by means of friending, following, or addressing, some ambiguity will exist around the meaning of what’s said as well as ambivalence around responding.

Some of this confusion will get sorted by Gbuzz developers. Some of it will get handled socially, as each of us finds and practices uses that, in time, others notice. Some will simply persist as residual noise, a byproduct of the fact that when content is separated from action interpretive possibilities are doubled and amplified (what to do?).

It might also be worth noting that at this point in the development of talk technologies and services we have industry competition and incomplete commitment to standards (activity streams). Furthermore, we have little to use that offers meta visualization of notifications. We still have to read everything. I strongly suspect that will change, making it possible for us to browse or skim social conversations for relevant headlines and activity. (Bring on the social searchers and data visualizers!)

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