The Buzz Campaign

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An interesting firefight broke out over the weekend as Google engineer DeWitt Clinton defended Google data policies in Buzz and related “open” standards. Those who remember the politics of RSS and the games companies played around its buildout would recognize a number of the names and tactics of the current positioning. Closed comment threads, insinuations, calls to action — only the names of the bigcos are shifting, and not all that much either.

The latest wrinkle is to describe developer acceptance as the key measurement of open standards. As Clinton and fellow Google evangelists fan out across the realtime stream’s version of the Sunday talk shows, they’re having to argue the borginess of Facebook versus Google. C’mon guys, get serious. Google has the gorilla crown going away.

Think of the breadth and depth of Google’s strategy: own every product category and decorate each with their own metadata. Gmail, done. Apps, done enough. Chrome. OS, Android, Nexus. Now Buzz. What folks who argue against the Google tax don’t understand is that this isn’t going to happen if…. It’s done, banked, in the books, check cashed, burger eaten. Every time a Buzz gets distributed, the addition of key voices from this and previous eras solidifies the new metadata type as the social graph ripples spread.

It doesn’t matter how immature Buzz is compared to other systems; in fact, it just makes the resultant Buzzes on the subject all the more canonical. No matter how long it takes for these systems to converge, each object will have its own metadata stamp. From here on out, Buzz stamps are getting licked and posted in increasingly significant numbers. The big companies behind these moves have learned a lot from the pioneers of RSS and open source, as well as the bigco strategies of Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle/Sun.

But Google has taken all the previous strategies and combined them into one relentless juggernaut: create the data and let the process fall into place around it. It would be cynical to suggest that Google was somehow behind the open standards players who started the ball rolling, but clearly the two groups scratched each other’s backs along the way. Perhaps the key melting pot for this buildout was the Internet Identity Workshop, where key players from Google, Microsoft, and Facebook first got together openly.

Facebook seems to have the most to gain by adoption of the various open standards. It mutes the argument that the social media giant is a closed, proprietary system by pushing the discussion to its Adsense-like Facebook Connect. This in turn fueled the idea that Facebook’s huge developer community makes adopting the Facebook API’s a more logical choice than Google forcing their own set. DeWitt Clinton simply ignored the suggestion.

He also doesn’t touch the suggestion that Dave Winer’s RSS and RSS Cloud be supported. This is a mistake, by the way. Noise from Atom mainstays about how Atom is better architected and more robust aside, the best way to marginalize RSS is to implement it and move on. It will be interesting to watch whether Clinton will continue to stonewall, or pass the ball to someone with more clout and willingness to think strategically and act tactically.

It’s likely Buzz has already survived, riding shotgun with the Nexus One release as Google executes on several different fields simultaneously. The Android code is infuriatingly unstable, but the overriding message is one of rapid innovation and aggressive challenge to Apple’s one-thought invulnerable crown. Nothing suggests that Steve Jobs will slow down or be anything but invigorated by the competition, but Google’s strength in cloud computing will take some catching up for Apple.

In the context of the imminent iPad release, Buzz will have a big new stage to finance the next round of improvements. While FriendFeed fans await more rational filtering and UI tweaks, the biggest bang for Google’s buck will be to double down on the email integration. Scorned as a privacy invasion, the built-in integration of relevant Buzzes lets me keep the noise down by only commenting on threads I want to track. The Clinton debates serve as a handy promotional campaign while we wait for the iPad to make additional forays.

For its part, Facebook would do well to adopt a more open stance on Buzz. With plenty of bona fide standards cred on the line, Facebook has been pretty well locked down since Buzz shipped. Perhaps the strategy is to go the big media route with IPO talk, but the silence over the FriendFeed acquisition is disingenuous, particularly given the founders’ willingness to share and learn from customers and the addicted press. Buzz’s weaknesses highlight why the company bought FriendFeed, and not in a flattering way.

Salesforce remains the wildcard, with Chatter suggesting a subscription model for micromessaging that flies in the face of Marc Andreesen’s conversation with Erick Schonfeld. We’ll know soon, because Chatter has plenty of room to maneuver in the absence of a Microsoft strategy for realtime. The window won’t stay open forever, however. But Benioff has been underestimated for years, and never more so than with Chatter.

So prepare yourself for a few weeks of jawboning about the new reality, as Buzz continues to fire more and more objects into the stream, creating more and more metadata as those objects are consumed, ignored, threaded into Twitter and FriendFeed chats, and in general recalling the late great days when all this stuff was invented, bearhugged, and muzzled. Buzz suggests there’s life in the old strategies, even when the shoe has moved to the other foot.

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