Monday, March 01, 2010


I have to post sometime soon about TWIG - "This week in Google" - which has taken over my life in the last few weeks. This is the most brilliant thing. It's so fantastic that in my head I speak with an enthused Californian New York accent now. Its a podcast - you can get it here - I have to say you should simply download all the episodes and listen to them right through, one by one, starting today. I have learned more in the last few weeks about the social web than I have scuttling around the web - which is what "surfing" actually feels like: no sun and swell, just eavesdropping at a party where everyone appears to have left already - after years of trying to stay in touch. It's a blast. What can I say. Awesome.

But here's the thing. Today I don't want to talk about TWIG because there's too much to say about Google Buzz. Oh my word. The world has cottoned on to Buzz in a big way since it launched a few weeks back, but my angle - naturally - is the Higher Ed world. So lets be honest, this world is often a place where ivory tower researchers do their stuff in private by leafing through tomes without any internet fuss upsetting the pace of their own field. I accept that. Using Buzz, or something like it, we aren't going to change everyone's world. I'm not even saying that amongst those who participate socially on the web, that 2010 will be the year of Buzz, like 2009 was the year of Twitter; 2008 was Facebook; 2007 was YouTube, etc etc. But, to me, it's the future. Buzz is the new Twitter and whilst it's different and it's Google-ised and will feel foreign and complex to the loyal Twitterers out there - of which I'm one - I believe it will come to be the place for open, and indeed closed, discussions on everything. And that matters most to, guess whom, researchers. That fascinating tribe - simultaneously the most vocal, reserved, interesting and anal anthropological grouping out there - researchers more than anyone need new ways of handling voluminous group discussions and quick dissemination that can really reach out to the world. Welcome to Buzz.

Actually let's not make Buzz the new saviour, because actually it's the front runner in a movement. This is typical Google. At the end of "The Incredibles" a mole appears screaming "I am 'The Underminer'! I may be beneath you, but nothing is beneath me!" For Facebook and now Twitter - that's Google. They take a industry which is operating well in a silo and open it up so everyone can play, making sure that they're the best at it. As they say on TWIG, Google says "We're your friend! We're not evil. Anyone can do what we do. We're open. We don't hold on to your data. We just want people to use the internet full stop because we're good at webapps and eventually you'll use something - a search, or email, or apps, or maps, or something - where we can make a profit by tracking your behaviour and selling ads. No need to take market share, growing the user base by making the internet truly pervasive is all Google needs. It's good business." So, Buzz is opening up the Twitterverse which has taken the world by storm.

Now I could go into why Twitter has succeeded, but there's a great post by Kevin Marks covering that. Suffice to say it's the first way I've ever seen of simply keeping up with diverse people and streams of information from just about everywhere. It just works. For years we've struggled with email and email lists, even RSS. You can get clever with all of these, but pretty soon it feels like a millstone around your neck. By contrast, login to Twitter and you see nice updates from people you recognise, and the general hubbub that you hear from colleagues and acquaintances is downright comforting. They're around. I know they're out there. And in Twitter I don't need to suffer the scores they got on some stupid quiz like "Katie is 87% oyster - what mollusc are you?" like you constantly get on Facebook. It's neat, simple and quick. You can get it on your mobile device. It's wonderful. But there's more. That's content comsumpton, what about content creation? I don't have much to say, but others out there are incredibly interesting, and they can throw there ideas out there where all can find them, and still only care about  responses from those they follow and recognise themselves. It's like being in the public gallery of a debate amongst experts - and that's what makes Twitter the most interesting place in the web. Smart people use it - and by god our researchers are smart, and so they should be using it too so we can all learn from them. Add to this the ease of scrolling through hundreds of updates every day, contextualised with photos against every update, and this is a manageable way of keeping yourself up to date. I've never felt so in touch with what's going on the world of the social web at least. I wouldn't say I'm in touch with my nearest and dearest buddies this way. Actually I'm less so because my gaze is fixed on my mobile device all day! And this is a downside. But maybe I can save time overall and spend real quality time with my loved ones as a result, who knows.

So we agree Twitter is fantastic. Here's the deal. It's closed stupid. On Twitter I am @apbleonard. That won't scale. No other apbleonard out there can use that. I'll bet @john and @fred and @obama feel a bit silly now with the millions of tweets they get mis-sent every day. So how is Buzz any different? As one of the blogs I mentioned in my last post has it, "take a look at the Buzz API". Webfinger anyone? Buzz recognises that. Activity streams? Pubsubhubbub? Buzz will soon be able to use these to send updates to your favourite Twitter app on your phone in real time. And there's more. With Buzz you get conversations. Now I liked the minimalist conversation structure in Twitter - there is no threads, just updates - but that's for geeks and it takes a while for newbies to get used to. There's stuff they need to fix with this, but it's only a matter of time. Also, and this blew me away, there's maps. I don't know when I'll actually find this useful, but it's beautiful. What's been a genuine dream of mine for sometime is already sort of here. Take a look at the screen shot taken from my iPod Touch this morning. People all over London are buzzing and you can find it simply by searching location. Of course you can use your mobile device to find buzzes near where you are.

On the TWIG episode on Buzz that I heard this morning there's a great discussion on the use of open standards in Buzz. In it Kevin Marks says that the Openmicroblogging people like Laconica and are moving over to these new standards as their way forward, the idea being that people running a Laconica server can freely plug into discussions carried out using Google Buzz. This is the key. Let us dream for a second. Imagine if York ran it's own "Buzz" service by running an open source server provided by on of these great projects. (Again, I'm not sure if this is the right name for it, and anything that's nameless loses a lot, so lets sort that out quickly - OpenBuzz anyone?) Then a researcher, Fred, could go to their university profile page, and add in their "What are you thinking?" box, an update from That update could be pushed out to all his followers all over the web in seconds, including who uses Google Buzz as their favourite client, and who happens to use their favourite iPhone or Android app for Twitter, Facebook and Buzz updates in one place. If the update were public people who happened on it could start following him in their profile, which could be a Google profile depending on which identity and apps they preferred to use, or something else. Alternatively Fred could go to the VLE, or our internal Community system, and post an update in one of the course or project or football community spaces there, and have that update show up immediately in the "Buzz" inboxes of those people who are signed up in those spaces only - privately. Isn't this the  perfect way to pick up all your updates? Now imagine Fred is at his office at York campus. He picks up his mobile and opens his local buzz map. He notices lots of buzzing happening in a lecture theatre or exhibition space or college bar, and heads on over. This is the beginning of a whole new world and we're seeing it materialise before our very eyes.

Yes it's hyperbole, and I'm a fanboy, but I'm excited. I think this could revolutionise research as much as email did. This is what Twitter has promised almost by accident. If you don't believe me take a look at (Yep - another TWIG find.) This is a company designed to bring together experts who can advise governments - in real-time - before taking decisions that affect all of us. Buzz has huge implications for news media of course, which is in crisis - see New York Times circulation drops below 1 million, Indy bought for a pound by an ex KGB man, etc. TWIG is big on that area too, but that's another story. I really think Buzz will move the world of online updating forward for the better. It may be unrecognisable before it becomes mainstream, but I think it has far more potential to overturn email than say Wave does, and it has the promise to open all the worlds thoughts and discussions and bring them together in a way that actually works, and that crucially isn't owned or controlled by Google, but where they sure can give us the juice when we feel like using their enticingly tasty services. Here's hoping.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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- Norman