February 15, 2010    /    by

A New Buzz in the Air

 What's all the Buzz about? No, I'm not referring to the Olympics, an uptick in the economy or even springtime bees. Google ...

 What's all the Buzz about? No, I'm not referring to the Olympics, an uptick in the economy or even springtime bees. Google has a new social network service called Buzz. What makes this a bit different is the linkage with Gmail and other Google products. The Internet is full of analysis of Buzz -v- Facebook, so I won't go there.

 I haven't tried the product yet, although I have seen it pop up within my personal Gmail account. In fact, I wasn't even going to blog about this topic, until some interesting developments around privacy emerged last week. My view is that state and local IT officials can learn from this rollout.

  To get an initial sense of the issues, read this USA Today article. Here's an excerpt:

"Buzz lets Gmail subscribers create profiles, like Facebook , and send Internet-wide blog postings, like Twitter. One issue of concern is a feature called "auto follow" that automatically sets up people you e-mail and chat with the most as followers of your Buzz postings."

The central questions revolve around "opt-in" versus "opt-out" features. That is, what happens automatically? Does everyone who has a Gmail account instantly start getting Buzz updates on their friend's lives? For users who may mix work and family contacts, will they start seeing pictures of work colleagues on vacation?

 More than that, what becomes searchable online? I am not taking any sides on these questions, only pointing out the potential good and not so good potential outcomes.  

 So why should state and local technology professionals care? Besides the implications on personal accounts, I think this trend has several implications for us. Here are a few things to consider:

1) Several governments have implemented (or are considering) Google's email and other office applications. How will Buzz fit into that strategy (on not)? This could be a good thing or a problem.

2) For all of us, social networking continues to grow. There are still those who have policies that say "ban social networks" like MySpace and Facebook at the office.  This is not going to last in the long run. We need to manage the situation both now and in the future with policies and enforcement. Practically speaking, some may be blocking Facebook but allowing personal Gmail accounts. That distinction just got more blurry. Check those filters.

3)  Examine the privacy implications for using this Buzz service at home and work. What are your settings? Should sharing certain information be turned off?

4) Lastly (for now), we can learn from the reaction of Google in rolling out Buzz. As we roll out Intranet and Internet portals, internal social networking sites, or other apps, we need to make sure that we understand how these apps link together (or not) from an "opt-in" perspective. Don't assume that users will like all of these automatic connections. While some people will certainly benefit and like the additional functionality, we need to address the cultural issues surrounding perceived (and real) privacy and security changes.

 Meanwhile, I'm going to get my hands dirty find out what all the Buzz is about (for myself).