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2/25/2010
10:24 PM
Allen Stern
Allen Stern
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The Google Buzz New User Experience

Last November I took a look at the user experience for a new user who attempts to access Twitter.com. Now I'd like to provide the same new user experience overview for a person attempting to use Google Buzz.

Last November I took a look at the user experience for a new user who attempts to access Twitter.com. Now I'd like to provide the same new user experience overview for a person attempting to use Google Buzz.I don't plan to touch on the privacy issues which seem to be the big topic as of late.

In my opinion, the user experience is miserable and probably pushes away many new users (especially those who aren't "social media experts"). For the purposes of this post, place yourself in the role of a new user no matter what your so-called expertise level is.

Let's begin with a simple question -- what exactly is Google Buzz? Is it a new type of message board/forum? Should a mainstream user be able to compare the user experience to something they already know? Or is this a brand new type of online user experience?

Accessing Google Buzz

When a user agrees to use Buzz, the only link to Buzz appears inside of Gmail on the left menu under their Inbox. Is Buzz a folder like the Inbox, Sent Items and Spam are? No, Buzz is an entire entity - welcome to confusion. Let's assume Buzz remains inside of Gmail, the link to Buzz needs to be moved away from the folders. Frankly it should become a "module" similar to the chat module. This would also allow for customization and some items could be pulled into that left menu module as well based on user requirements.

ignore the 669 new messages in the inbox, I use Gmail mostly as a newsletter catcher

So I'm In, Now What?

I click on the Buzz link and assuming I have some contacts that are also using Buzz, I should see some content on the page. I am apparently "following" 65 people which means that any content they share on Buzz will appear on the page. In the image below, you can see that there's a lot going on.

  • First there's a note that I can read items from RSS/Atom feeds - what's an Atom feed?
  • Some more people are now following me - I can select to follow them back which I think means I will see their updates on my page and I can also block the user
  • Then comes the meat of the page. There's a refresh button which I'm not sure what it actually does since the page updates on its own?
  • Next comes what appears to be the beginning of a thread - similar to the very well known experience of using a message board/forum

The "thread"

Below is an example of a threaded discussion on Google Buzz. I've removed the initial thread message for clarity. We can see that 31 people liked the message including two of my followers plus a bunch of other people.

Now we get into the worst mess of Buzz by far. Look at how sloppy the presentation of the thread is. At least on Friendfeed (you know, the service Google didn't copy), the usernames are to the right. With the way Buzz is currently organized, the names make it nearly impossible to read a discussion. I want to read from top to bottom and then look to the right (or somewhere else) to see who posted the update.

Some of the popular user's threads go on for miles with no break. Considering that there is just text with no design, it's shocking that a company with tens of thousands of employees and a market cap of $172 billion, that they can't make the flow better.

WTF?

Want to confuse the new user even more? What in the heck is the image below? I can only guess that maybe it's other messages from Francine? Are they threads Francine started? Are they comments she made? Were they comments on the same topic or another thread?

Topics - who needs topics!

A message board allows you to find content you are interested in based on a topic. When I go my HTMLCenter forums and want to ask a question or learn about SEO, I select that category. When I want to find out about the Holiday Inn points program, I select that forum on FlyerTalk. It makes sense.

On Buzz, I have to sort through with every cat photo, baby photo, "I just ran 4 miles in 2 minutes", "I can't sleep", etc. And if you follow the people who are big sharers or big yappers, the stream gets overwhelmed with their content. Apparently Google made a change to muzzle the high-sharing users but does that mean now I don't see everything? And let's not even talk about what a new user's experience looks like when they sign onto buzz and have no content on their page.

I assume Google wants you to use search to find the content you are interested in. But a typical message board/forum experience is with browsing, not with search.

Content

It appears that sometimes Buzz pulls in whole blog posts and other times just a link to the actual content. I will address this in another post as it requires additional commentary. My general thought is that Google is doing everything they can to keep you inside of Google.

Summary

Maybe Google isn't targeting the mainstream user with Google Buzz. In my opinion, Google needs to make Buzz private and only allow the people already in to continue to use the service - the early adopters. I've read many messages that note that Google had to rush Buzz out the door - I have no idea why they would do this. To me the experience is a hot mess and is frankly worse than the new user experience on Twitter.

Suggestions for improvement

Next week I will offer some quick suggestions to try and fix some of the new user usability problem on Google Buzz. Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments and I will incorporate them in the suggestions post.

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