Google Buzz v twitter: more on micro-commentary

I wrote recently about the differences between twitter and Buzz, conjecturing that perhaps Buzz is micro-commentary. I have had a few more thoughts on this that I would like to share.

I wrote in that post that communication in twitter is improbable, given its immense volume of flow. And I noted that calling out another user by name, or by RT, was one way to get their attention. Given that tweets are not addressed unless the user does this explicitly, there’s no other way to initiate a directed conversation with another user.

I also noted that Buzz preserves commentary threading beneath a user’s original post. (I say commentary because posts are shorter than blogs, and commentary generally shorter than comments. The mode is tighter and faster than blogging, and seems positioned between short-form tweeting and long-form blogging.)

This preservation of context also keeps recently-commented Buzz posts on the page. Presumably this is to sustain relevance and give visibility to unfolding “conversations.” If Buzz is a streaming application, these active posts are like eddies or ripples — dynamics of flow where the waters are still until their self-reinforcing activity expires and they are taken downstream.

Twitter has no means by which to surface or capture this activity. If @stoweboyd puts up a hot post, you and I will miss all its @reply traffic and the original blog tweet disappears from view like any other. Twitter, and/or its third party clients, could conceivably highlight these posts to feature them. In fact it would be cool if Seesmic, Tweetdeck, and the rest provided a panel for trending tweets. Relevance would then be captured as it is in Buzz.

In Saturday’s post I noted that the act of addressing another user in twitter is separate from the act of communicating. The @reply or @name must be written explicitly. This isn’t the case in Buzz, where a comment box takes care of addressing. As is the case with Facebook status update commenting, this may be a small design feature but it’s one with significant social interaction design implications.

These implications concern the types of users who may find Buzz a win over twitter, and the structure of the application’s conversationality. And these two factors combined will play a significant role in the sociality likely to distinguish Buzz from Facebook and twitter.

First a quick observation on the “feel” of commenting in Buzz. It’s very Friendfeed, as many of you have observed. Quick, effortless, and due to the lack of avatars, less self-referential than blog commenting (there’s no picture, and no stats or links besides the user name by which to distinguish each commenter). By design, commentary clearly belongs to the post’s original author.

Commentary belongs to the author. In other words, in commenting, I relate myself to the author. This is a matter of the conversation’s “feel,” and an important one.

By contrast, twitter works in reverse. The tweet entry field stands alone and is clearly “my” field of expression. And there is no commenting on tweets inline. @naming or @replying is the only means by which to draw another’s attention. In twitter, the act of doing this relates that user to me. In Buzz, I relate to the author, and in twitter, I relate him or her to me.

This is not a small difference, but a rather large one. In Buzz, my comments are not distinguished to my audience of followers, but belong instead to whomever I have commented to. In twitter, my “comments” (@replies or @names) refer that user to me, and belong to me as my expressions.

In other words, twitter allows users to relate others in the social field to themselves, and this act is highly visible. It’s probably one of the reasons that many users @reply celebrities even knowing that they will not receive a reply. The act of calling out a relationship with the celebrity in effect borrows the celebrity’s status and (quite literally) attaches it to the user who calls him or her out.

A particular kind of sociality has emerged around this simple facet of twitter’s social interaction design. One that contributes to twitter’s “sense” of visibility, of seeing others and of being seen seeing them.

Buzz downplays this kind of sociality for a more proximate and less self-referential mode of updating. And this fits Google’s proclaimed intent to bring email into the age of status — both in constructing shared and porous talk spaces as well as in embracing the form of the update.

(Google Buzz is also an aggregator of other activity stream sources, though it does not make liberal use of system activity messages and aggregate views. The only one I’ve seen is: “9 posts with less activity from …” It’s likely Google will take a filtering approach to ongoing relevance and noise issues, rather than a Facebook system messaging approach: “_______ and 6 other friends are now friends with _____”.)

I think twitter’s self-centricity will continue to serve it well, albeit increasingly for broadcasting and thus for broadcasters. Buzz, by contrast, looks good to attract conversationalists — those whose better contributions are perhaps not in talking about themselves but in addressing points made by others. And they will benefit from the conversational aggregation that accrues to top users and interesting posts.

I have further thoughts on the topical possibilities of Buzz. And thoughts on the devolution that heavy users like @scobleizer have noted about open talk spaces like Friendfeed. And some thoughts on what looks like an interesting and perhaps precedent-setting embrace by heavy-hitters of normative self-constraint — to wit, not importing tweets to Buzz. But these will each require a post of their own.

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