Superhighway: March 2010
Where technology, media and culture meet. This month: What’s All The Buzz About?, Is Blogging Really Dying? and What Happens When You Combine Traditional Media And Social Media?
Google Gets Evil, Episode II
WELL, AT LEAST THEY got the name right. Oh man, did it create a buzz. If it hadn’t endangered activists and private users around the world, the buzz created around Buzz would haven been hailed as PR genius by now.
Google, known for soft-launching its products while they’re still in beta testing—Gmail, GoogleDocs, etc.—lit up a firestorm of criticism by releasing its new social media tool, Buzz, prematurely.
Buzz was added to Gmail in mid-February, in theory to allow users to be more social by posting status messages, videos, pictures, links and anything else one would consider sharing.
As conceived by the platform, you can set your Buzz preferences to follow different users and they can follow you. On a mobile, it adds a geographic component, and you can see what your nearby friends are saying. Plus, you can respond to “Buzzes” via your Gmail inbox—which for Google was presumably key, as it provided a 100 million-strong captive user base right out of the gate.
The real buzz, however, wasn’t just about Google’s latest foray into the social media scene, which was widely seen as an attempt to counter the popularity of Twitter and Facebook. What really got people buzzing were the privacy hazards that cropped up when the product launched.
First off, there was an “auto-follow” feature, that built your network for you automatically. Upon enabling Buzz, the service would automatically follow all your contacts, which users and experts decried as an obvious breech of privacy: since who you follow was, by default, public, it meant that your whole rolodex was suddenly public property.
Then there were pesky issues with other privacy settings, which required you to go into hard-to-find menus and opt out of having personal information like, say, your home address broadcast to the world unbidden. Turning Buzz off didn’t actually make it stop. Major newspaper ran stories about people whose lives had been trashed by the sudden airing of private information. And so on.
A few net-happy people loved it, but by and large, user response was not kind.
In a statement, Google told users, “We’ve heard your feedback loud and clear.” Well, we sure hope so. Fortunately, there are plenty of sites out there telling you how to erase the thing and protect your information.
Just do a search for “turn off Buzz.” On Google.
Problems with Buzz:
The Death of Blogging?
IF NO ONE HEARS IT FALL, does it make a noise?
Is blogging really dying? For that matter, you might ask, “If blogging dies, will anyone care?”
A column that appeared in the Guardian a while back, by technology editor Charles Arthur, noted that the number of pingbacks—links from blogs to another site—to the Guardian’s website were decreasing. In other words, bloggers weren’t linking to the Guardian much any more. This led Arthur to wonder if users had abandoned blogs for quicker, easier, more seductive media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
At about the same time, a New York Times article suggested small-time bloggers were abandoning their creations left, right and center, as they realized that no one really cared to read about what they had for lunch, or their random thoughts of the day.
Perhaps fad blogging was dying, the writers observed; but both stories also noted that blogs with large readership or specific missions, like corporate and political blogs, didn’t seem to be in the midst of their death throes. To be honest, is anyone surprised?
Blogging, as a trend, came quickly, and will probably go by the wayside just as fast. We might even be happy to see to the end of the ubiquitous blog; but we shouldn’t forget the contributions that many bloggers have made in terms of citizen journalism, telling stories that would not otherwise have been told. Whatever platform comes next, we hope it will support them, too.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU combine traditional media and social media? Add to the mix the popularity of BBC Arabic and, simply put, you hold the power of a juggernaut in your hands. That’s the idea, anyway, behind a new TV program called 710 Greenwich, written and produced by Hosam Sokkari, head of the BBC Arabic Network.
Sokkari recently told Superhighway he was looking for ways to engage the small but growing number of young Arabs who are tuning in to new media tools like Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia—while at the same time connecting that world to the realm of satellite TV, which still dominates the Arab media landscape.
The project is built on the classic TV show format, with guests, tough questions and all the excitement that follows. But 710 Greenwich veers from the traditional course of talk show TV by adding in a new media component.
Sokkari suggested offering an opportunity for Arabs around the region to engage directly with guests through new media would be an interesting experiment. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Blogger will allow users (from anywhere, actually, given they speak Arabic) to watch, read, listen and, most importantly, interact with the new show, and Sokkari hints at the fact those participating via new media will even be able to put forward ideas and concepts for upcoming episodes.
Above all, he hopes the show will allow more people to join the global conversation surrounding news and media.