February 13, 2010

5 Reasons Why Gmail Buzz Privacy Isn’t All That Bad

Google released Buzz for Gmail and there are issues if you’re not careful with your settings as well as possibly unwanted group overlaps (I wouldn’t be too surprised if in the future, a less tech savvy family member posts a meant-to-be-private reply to a public buzz message of yours, because after all Google did integrate something very public into a product that was formerly rather private). However, Rome isn’t burning and Sergey Brin isn’t playing the fiddle, and yesterday I saw some people who apparently think that Google now simply reveals all your Gmail contacts, which isn’t true. Here are some things on the other hand which I understand to be true (please correct me if I’m wrong):

  1. Again, Google won’t just reveal your Gmail address book to the world. Only if you opt-in to follow certain people who are suggested to you in Buzz do they have a chance to show up on your public Google profile as people you follow. If you’re e.g. a journalist who’s in contact with sources who like to remain anonymous, make sure you handle Buzz with care. Note others may follow you and thus show up on your profile, though.

  2. Even if someone is shown to follow you in Buzz, it does not mean they’re your contact, or that you email frequently with them, or that you even know them. By default anyone who finds you in Buzz can follow you. If your competing company’s boss is showing up on your profile it’s not proof you’re looking to switch offices – the other party may simply be interested in what you have to say, similar perhaps to how they might follow your RSS feed if you write a blog.

  3. You can decide to only write private group messages in Buzz, or if you don’t want to use it at all, you can turn off Buzz in your Gmail. For the latter, click on “turn off buzz” at the bottom of Gmail. Note though what Sam writes in the forum: “If you turn off buzz in your Gmail account it doesn’t change anything. All your posts stay on your profile and you can still comment on things via the profile ... It’s literally only turning it off within Gmail.” (Does anyone know more about this point?)

  4. You can turn off having contacts be shown on your profile. Just go to your profile settings and check off “Display the list of people I’m following and people following me”. (Note when I tried yesterday, this setting didn’t show in every account, I’m not sure why.)

  5. Google is already rolling out changes due to feedback, making certain privacy related issues more visible in the interface. Per their blog post, now or soon, in the “How do you want to appear to others” dialog, there’s supposed to be a checkbox reading “Show the list of people I’m following and the list of people following me on my public profile”. (Does anyone know if this is checked by default?) Google might have rolled out this thing too aggressively – no test phase to wait for feedback first, and already “tens of millions of people have checked Buzz out”, according to Google – but the speed in which they react to this is good.

In the end, since Buzz arrived you might need to be a bit more careful now when using Gmail. Google may be aware of this trade-off but it looks like they’re really eager to get this social network/ messaging console out to casual users – remember, tons of less all-encompassing features start their life as opt-in Gmail Labs experiments where only early adopters might use them, but this one didn’t. I think it’ll be worth to continue closely watch privacy issues Buzz might raise.


February 12, 2010

5 Google Buzz Tips for the Advanced User

Yesterday, after spending some time with Google's latest social networking service,Google Buzz, we posted a handful of buzz tips and tricks for those wanting to better manage the buzz, play with its APIs or banish it altogether from their Gmail inbox.

Today, we've come across more even more tips for working with Buzz, including how to add Buzz extensions to your web browser, new ways to subscribe to others' Buzz, and even ways to update Buzz via email. If you're becoming a regular Buzz user, then you'll want to read through this latest collection of tips to take your Buzz skills up another notch.

First of all, a little known fact: did you know that Google Buzz is supposed to be spelled with a lowercase "b"? This comes from Google engineer Cedric Beust who posted this info to his Buzz yesterday. While that may be true, we've noticed that "Buzz" is capitalized in our Gmail inboxes to fit in with the other labels and it's also capitalized on your own Buzz page and when you see the Buzz tab on someone's Google profile. Frankly, we prefer it in capitals and until Google cleans up the inconsistencies throughout Gmail and Google Profiles, we'll think we'll leave it that way.

Now, onto the tips:

1. Get Buzz Browser Extensions

After only being live for two days, there are already web browser extensions for integrating Buzz into your Firefox or Chrome browser. As a Chrome user myself, I've been keeping my eye out for Chrome Buzz extensions - it seemed like Chrome would be the first one to get some sort of add-on. Yesterday, it finally did. In fact, it got two.

The first is the Chrome Buzzextension which adds the Buzz conversation bubble icon to your Chrome browser. When clicked, you can read through all the latest Buzz in the window that displays. Unfortunately though, this is currently a read-only experience. If you want to comment, like, or post new Buzz yourself, you have to head back to your Gmail. However, it's a good first effort from the developer and worth watching for future updates.

A second Buzz extension for Chrome is called Buzzer. This lets you publish to Buzz from Google Reader. This one actually seems a little redundant since you can add your Google Reader Shared Items to your Google Profile and have them automatically published on Buzz. However, this would be useful if you came across a website that you weren't subscribed to and still wanted to add it to Buzz. Clicking the button will open up the site's feed in Reader and allow you to add a note (if desired) before posting the item to Buzz.

Meanwhile, Firefox users have an experimental add-on called "Buzz It!" which lets you update your status via Gmail with the link and title of the webpage you're currently viewing. (Thanks to Orli Yakuel for finding this one.)

2. Hide Your Buzz Contact List from Prying Eyes

As Philipp Lenssen pointed out on Google Blogoscoped, Buzz may not be for everyone...especially those who don't want to expose their private Gmail contact list to the world at large. The problem with Buzz is once you set it up, those you follow and those following you are shown on your profile page. This isn't all that different from FriendFeed expect for one important fact: on FriendFeed you picked and chose who your friends were, but your Buzz contacts are added for you automatically based on who you email the most. If that's not information you want to share, here's how to turn it off:

  1. Sign into your Google account via Gmail (or any other Google service)

  2. Go to your Google profile here: http://google.com/profiles/me

  3. Click the link at the top-right of the screen that reads "Edit Profile"

  4. Here, you'll see a checkbox that reads "Display the list of people I'm following and people following me." To make this info private, just uncheck that box.

  5. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click the "Save changes" button

3. Update Buzz via Email

One of the nice things about Buzz's Gmail integration is that it lets you update your Buzz via email. This one's simple: just send an email to buzz@gmail.com using your gmail.com email address. You can even send in attachments!

4. Subscribe to Someone's Buzz via RSS

As noted by commenter ArpitNext on our previous post, Google Buzz is RSS-enabled. If you want to subscribe to someone's Buzz in your feed reader, just go to their Google profile page. Once there, you'll see the orange RSS icon appear in the browser's address bar. Click the icon in order to add Buzz to your favorite feed reader.

5. Email, Link to, or Mute a Buzz Post

To do more with a Buzz post, click the drop-down arrow to the far right of any post for a list of other Buzz options. From here, you can email the post, get the post's permalink, view all Buzz from that person, follow them, or mute the post.

Update! Bonus Tip!

Our own Frederic Lardinois discovered that Google Buzz understands a little bit of the Textile Markup Language. Here are the markups he found that work:

(*)word(*) = bold

(_)word(_) = italics

(-)word(-) = strikethrough

(--) = em-dash

Note: Use those without the ()


February 11, 2010

Google Buzz in Gmail

Recently we mentioned here how the word “buzz” turns out to be a reserved label in Gmail. Now, Gmail is rolling out a service by that name – Buzz – announced by Google some hours ago via video,blog post and help page. Buzz is meant to let you send messages and share status updates, photos, links and so on – think Friendfeed, Twitter or Facebook, but integrated in your email account.

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Sharing something with your Gmail contacts, or publicly if you prefer, Google calls “posting a buzz”. You can also comment on, or Like the messages of others. And writing @ in front of a name directs your message to that person, as in Twitter (Twitter itself, by the way, is also integrated into Buzz). You can also send Buzz messages from your mobile phone. An API is available too.

According to CNet, Google’s Sergey Brin said that one of the most useful Buzz features for him is the ability “to start typing a thought right off the bat without having to worry about disrupting other people... I can throw something out there and the people who are most interested and most relevant tend to pay attention and reply.” Google’s recommendation system is supposed to surface the most relevant posts so that you’re “no longer acting as a human router of sorts but the back end does that heavy lifting.”

To try Buzz yourself, look for the left-hand navigation buzz link in Gmail. I don’t have it in my account yet so I wasn’t able to test it yet. “We’re still rolling out Buzz to everyone”, Google writes.

Friendfeed’s Paul Buchheit and Kevin Fox are not on Google’s paycheck anymore, but it looks like their work continues to be seen in Gmail. The screenshots here are from Google’s introductory video.

With all the features seemingly copied from other services, one starts to wonder if Google is on the road of stopping to invent new stuff and now merely cloning existing approaches and pushing it to their massive user base, thus battling competition. If Microsoft does similar GUI copying, aren’t they badmouthed for decades to come?

Then again, why should Google not go with time and utilize how the web evolved? If certain interface or communication approaches turn out to make sense, why not have them be spread widely, pushing forward the web’s progress? Also, I’m sure that the likes of Friendfeed and Twitter, in turn, got inspired by a whole lot of interfaces that were available to them when they brainstormed their GUI. And perhaps this whole thing should have been within email to begin with for ultimate casualness and mainstream adoption?

I guess we’ll find out what the answer was if in another 5 years, services like Twitter or Friendfeed ceased to exist. Another option, who knows, may be that the whole Buzz thing is just adding clutter and confusion to your inbox (where Buzz conversations may appear, too), not connecting the right contacts with whom you’d want to discuss news (I email with my family but may not want to talk to them about the latest developments from Silicon Valley), and blurring the lines between what’s private and what’s public, causing privacy mishaps and email paranoia.


Google Becomes an ISP: Plans to Deliver 1 Gigabit Connections to 50,000 Homes

Google just announced that it will beginning to build and test an ultra high-speed broadband network in a small number of locations in the United States. The company wants to offer fiber-to-the-home connections that will reach 1 gigabit per second. For now, Google plans to first roll out these connections to around 50,000 people, with the potential to reach over 500,000 people at a later stage.

According to Google, this will be an experiment. The company hasn't decided on where to build this network yet, but you can nominate your own neighborhood here. The nomination process will end on March 26 and Google plans to announce where it will deploy this network by the end of the year.

According to today's announcement, Google plans to offer these connections at "competitive prices" and wants the networks to be open to competitors. Google current operates a free WiFi network in its hometown of Mountain View.

Finding Killer Apps

According to Google, this effort will help the company to experiment with "new ways to help make Internet access better and faster for everyone." Specifically, Google wants to see what the "killer apps" for these kind of connections are and test how to build better fiber networks.

U.S. is Lagging Behind - Will this Help?

The U.S. has been lagging behind with regards too broadband speeds and adoption. Just last year, the average broadband speed in the U.S. actually declined. With Chrome and the Chrome OS, Google has recently tackled a number of problems where it feels like the company is more interested in pushing technology forward than becoming a market leader. Nobody has really pushed broadband speeds in the U.S. forward and given that there are a lot of places where the incumbent cable providers don't even have competition, there has been relatively little incentive for these ISPs to provide higher speeds.


4G Telecom Service in India... LOL

J S Sarma, Chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authory of India (TRAI) said that, TRAI has started consultation for the 4G (fourth generation) telecom services. TRAI would look into the various aspects, including spectrum band to be allotted for 4G service and quantum and modes of allotment to the operators. TRAI will soon issue a consultation paper that would throw various questions for the industry and other stake holders to deliberate culminating into recommendations by the TRAI.

4G aim to provide a wide range of data rates up to ultra-broadband (gigabit-speed) Internet access to mobile as well as stationary users. Ironically, the government of India has not yet completed the process of 3G spectrum auction, which has been delayed by more than three years. Let us hope that, the 4G auction and implementation would move faster and catch up with other countries.The Telecom companies Motorola and Ericsson have already started testing 4G or LTE technology.

Motorola had recently said that they would be approaching the Department of Telecom (DoT) to seek spectrum for testing their equipment. Motorola has become the first telecom vendor to complete throughput up to 70 Mbps. The LTE technology can be offered in 2.1-2.3 MHz spectrum band and the DoT is looking at the availability of this frequency.