- February
Posted By : Adrian Chan
If twitter is micro-blogging, is Buzz micro-commentary?

After spending more time in Buzz I thought I would share a couple observations on the sociality of Buzz in comparison to that of twitter. Notable, and obvious to Buzz users, will be that Buzz is more conversational. It has a lot in common with Friendfeed, in that threaded comments accrue to popular posts in a self-reinforcing manner. The more commented the post, the more attention it gets.

This is interesting in that the sociality in Buzz, which is based on the social graph of gmail + followers, is constructed by means of comments. The most connected users are the most visible. Their most interesting statements attract comments. Buzz reinforces the attention paid to these posts by notifications that appear in gmail, and by pushing commented posts to the top of the page.

Twitter, by contrast, has no threading of tweets and their replies. Tweets and their replies are neither shown together (contained, as they are in Buzz), nor do replies preserve the relevance of a tweet. Twitter, or its client applications, could conceivably preserve tweets that receive large numbers of replies, and thus sustain attention to conversations in the way that Buzz does. But twitter doesn’t thread replies inline as responses to the original tweet. This is why Buzz is a much more natural conversation application.

In twitter, sociality is constructed by addressing other users by @replies or RTs. The twitter stream flows so quickly that tweets are now lost to history in just four minutes on average. That is, if a tweet fails to pick up an @reply or RT within four minutes, odds are it’s gone.

Sociality emerges around the efforts of a population’s members to relate visibly and meaningfully. In conversational tools and practices of the day (FB status, twitter, Buzz, and their micro-messaging kin) this occurs through two social functions. First, the act of communication (the post). Secondly, social action, or interaction, represented by a response/reply (RTs, comments). Follows are a form of action that implicitly solicit reciprocity, and as such are gestural (they involve no linguistic statement and are just a social act).

In all communication systems, perhaps especially those that are built on networks (instead of spaces or containers, like chat rooms), the improbability of communication is the system’s most salient problem. Improbability of communication can be addressed by communicating more, but this increases noise. Or it can be addressed by means of actions that increase the probability of communication. (@replies, RTs, starring, favoriting, bookmarking and so on are all system features that, as user actions, raise the vsibility or distribution of acts of communication.)

Communication in twitter is improbable because of its sheer volume. Simply “saying something” doesn’t secure the attention of a desired audience, let alone an individual. This places burden on action as a means of increasing the probability of communication. @replies address an author, increasing exposure to one’s own followers and finding their way into the @repies of the intended addressee.

Because twitter is made of un-coupled tweets, its conversation space is limited by the @reply and RT. Neither of these are captured in a view that threads conversation and makes it visible to others. Consequently, it makes little sense to try to tweet conversationally in twitter. Conversations require that statements be displayed serially and in order. Twitter can’t do this. It thus makes more sense to tweet one-off statements, links, and for the most part monological messages.

Buzz solves the coupling problem: by eliminating the need to address the original author directly, and by threading comments beneath the original post. The distinction will result in a much different sociality. First, high profile (well connected) users will be more visible. They will not need to buzz as much to get visibility. Their more interesting and dialogical statements (questions, claims, arguments, etc) will attract commentary, which, reinforced by Buzz’s notifications and privileging of commented posts, results in a conversational sociality.

Influence, then, might accrue to those not just with the greatest number of followers and most repeatable and reference worthy posts, but to those with the more interesting and “relevant” things to say.

Now Buzz doesn’t have any topical organization, so at this point posts and comments will remain vulnerable to the topical degradation and noise that belongs to streamed messaging systems. Some topicality will emerge around particular individuals, as it does today around domain experts, pundits, and so on. But still subject to the noise enabled by a two-degree commenting boundary (First degree: I see Louis Gray’s posts because I follow him. Second degree: I see the posts by others who follow him.)

If Buzz also had personal groups/lists, I could organize my view of Buzz conversations. I can group users within Gmail contacts, but I don’t believe there’s a way to sort Buzz by those groups.

And if Buzz had public groups/lists, common social spaces could become a step in the direction of topical relevance (akin to Friendfeed’s groups). Then, of course, Buzz becomes a social space and is no longer just an evolutionary step away from email, and an answer to status updating.

Buzz makes commentary so quick and easy that commenting on blogs now seems archaic. It makes replying so easy that @replying in twitter makes me feel oddly aware of twitter’s unfortunate social overhead (that I need to @reply to get the person’s attention, and that I can’t couple my @reply to the message I’m replying to or commenting on).

In other words, Buzz does have commentary right. This isn’t replying, and it’s not commenting. It’s a conversational form in which limited but socially visible and relevant commentary will accrue to those with interesting things to say. Much more than to those who post the most, or have the largest followings. Which I like.

I’m looking forward to seeing how conventions of use develop in Buzz and to its development. And I’m very interested in the implications of Buzz integration with shared standards and client api’s.


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