Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Buzz, I'd like to meet your uncle, GG

Remember what life on the web was like in the years before Google became a verb? Back before Orkut Buyu-how-many-Ks-in-kkoten supposedly set out to find his lost love through social neworking, before Mark Zuckerberg supposedly screwed-over a bunch of other Harvard-types to start a site for college kids to ogle at other college kids, before even stuff like Friendster and what not, there was the mailing list. Thanks to e-groups (later Yahoo! Groups) and such-like we tried to keep in touch with friends from school that we'd left behind by signing up for the batch mailing list with much enthusiasm. Similarly when trying to find people with similar tastes or hobbies, we would again sign up for a mailing list. I, for example, was on the mailing list for something called Quiznet for about 9 years, though I stopped reading the mails after 3, and another poetry mailing list called the Wondering Minstrels, which sadly seems to have stopped sometime in 2004 or so.

Now those mailing lists weren't perfect, but they had some redeeming features-they were strictly opt-in, there was a clear reason for their formation (better than, say, being defaulted the 'India' network on Fb), they were reasonably simple to figure out if you knew how to use e-mail and the rules for posting and moderation within the network could be tweaked by the users themselves. Set against that was the pain of having loads of unread mails cluttering your inbox, including flame-wars, personal mails because people replied to the group instead of the sender and even the odd out-of-office auto-reply. Even today, most of the mails in my Gmail account in the last 6 months seem to be from members of a particular mailing list that I'm part of.

So now that Google's come out with Buzz and the initial enthusiasm has worn off, I find myself wondering why they didn't try integrating Buzz with Google Groups. Instead of opting users into one universal social network they could have provided a platform for multiple overlapping networks. People could choose which networks they wanted to join, what permission levels they wanted to set for the group, and they'd only need to share something once to the group. Instead of receiving 10 emails from members of a group with the same attachment being forwarded around with new comments, you could have just one instance of the item, with comments tacked on. Want to keep your work contacts different from your other friends? Set up different networks. With opt-in, there'd be less chances of twitter-style bots. And instead of those irritating messages on fb about '1 new survey for you to answer' etc, Google could simply show some discreet adwords on the side tailored for the network, similar to the ads shown within Gmail (maybe network members could even choose to some extent what types of ads they want to see=> more targeted ads =>happier marketers and customers).
It wouldn't necessarily be as flashy as facebook, but it could lead to more communicative networks, with more useful information.

Not to mention, it would reduce the chances of my being woken up at 1.00 AM because a new mail hit my phone, informing the mailing list that _______ is not in office right now and will be out on vacation with limited access to his e-mail, but we can contact his colleague _______ for any urgent matter.


  1. ha ha ha. i personally find buzz unnecessary. but check out igoogle...

  2. My brother introduced me to Wondering Minstrels. Hadn't thought of that in years. So glad to hear you mention it.

  3. The Minstrels mailing list was how I got most of my exposure to poetry. My sister introduced me to it.
    It seems to have stopped in 2007, not 2004 as I thought. I guess I just stopped checking my yahoo mail id after 2004. The original site they had seems to have been taken down, but I found this instead:

  4. I remember quiznet. Too intense for my taste. Never really used google groups. I'm the moderator of a yahoo group that publishes announcements of neuroscience talks in the Boston area, but a google reader-ish thing of that scale would be unreadable.

    Of all social networks, I'm most happy with the slow growth of google reader (spurred on a bit by Buzz).

    I remember some poetry website that had "minstrels" in the name. There was an IITB connection. Related? I got most of my poetry thanks to ICSE and ISC. They had good taste for a school board! And the textbooks had poems other than the ones in the syllabus, so during class I would read those while the teacher laboured on.

  5. Google Groups is mostly like Yahoo Groups. I'm not sure what you meant by a Reader-ish thing in this case, but I'll take your word for it that it would be unreadable.

    I guess what's cool about Reader (and possibly communities like digg, slashdot etc) is that they've grown around the idea of collating and sharing stuff, rather than the slightly fake 'social'-ness on sites like Facebook and Orkut. I think that people often provide a more honest picture of who they are through what they share (and comment on) on the sharing sites than on their profiles on the more 'socializing'-oriented sites, since they make more of an effort to project a particular sort of image on the latter. But that may just be based on anecdotal evidence.

    The Wondering Minstrels mailing list also had a site at one point called, which was hosted on a server at Rice University I think. The founders/main contributors were Indians, though I'm not sure if they were from IITB or not. I think they've now moved all that content to the blogspot address I posted in my previous comment.