Google Buzz is a better Bulletin Board System (Really)

Google Buzz is a better Bulletin Board. For the children of the 1980s, that’s not a negative connotation. When I first heard the squawky dial-up modem (1200 baud) to a far-away server and saw the monochrome ASCII listings for files and information there on that computer, I glimpsed another world.

Google Buzz gives you the power of the BBS, which was essentially the ability to talk about anything you wanted in both real time and asynchronously. Yes, I know that there are lots of bulletin boards out there and that many people have gotten this right. However, none of these bulletin board services are embedded in GMail, which boasts 37m unique monthly users (and many more casual users).

This will be the bulletin board your Mom thinks about using. Will it revolutionize social networking? It’s still too soon to tell. Google’s UI takes a bit of getting used to, and the traditional flash/bling/AJAX we’ve associated with Twitter, Facebook, and the rest is not yet on display.

Yet Google Buzz is revolutionary because it attempts to take the information river that is Twitter (and probably soon, Facebook — if they can work out an information sharing deal — and others) and flattens it out into the familiar Gmail interface.

Right for everybody? Not yet. But the mobile interface might be better than the Gmail interface for Buzz. Figure out how to expand/contract the threads, make it a bit more usable and Google has a winner on its hands. I’m using it today.

A simple “Thank You” speaks volumes

Thank you for reading this piece (but back to that in a moment.)

Recently, I received valuable advice from a colleague. It wasn’t a business plan for a blockbuster company, a secret formula to synthesize gold from base elements, or a patentable insight. What he said was, “always say thank you when you get feedback.” I didn’t think about it all that much at the moment, except to think that I was grateful for the heartfelt advice.

The amazing thing about the advice to thank people for feedback is how easy it is to apply, and what great results it provides.  You might think that people are used to hearing this as an almost automatic response or a token response and don’t notice, but they most definitely do notice.  What we more often notice is the absence of the acknowledgement (ask anyone who lives in California the difference between shopping in the supermarket and being talked to by friendly staff there and in a similar store on the East Coast and you’ll get the idea).  So I’m trying to put the advice into practice.

The first thing I’ve noticed is that some people are actually startled to be spoken to directly. The checker at the supermarket and the clerk at the gas station are used to being in transactional interactions, rather than conversations, from many customers.

So What Can We Do Differently to Show Others They Matter?

Start with a personalized version of Hello.Chris Brogan’s speech at Web 2.0 this week reinforces this idea, suggesting that when we greet people we should say “I see you”, instead of “hello”, indicating that we are acknowledging the person’s presence and not simply regurgitating a rote response of recognition.  And end with Thank You.  Or in my case, perhaps I’ll start with Thank you from now on.

Why My Cat Doesn’t Twitter But I do

Twitter is here to stay. It’s not all LOLCats any more, or even just meeting Shaq in a diner on a whim. Twitter is a new communications medium, or maybe just an old one, repurposed: the water cooler, sized to global scale.

People have made fun of Twitter, calling it “140 characters of inanity”. I’ve seen Twitter play three crucial roles lately that make me think that its use will grow rather than shrink in the months and years ahead. This tool is now an instant news feed, a better and crowdsourced RSS reader, and a way to ask questions both of a small group of friends you know and a vast pool of people containing some you might like to know. Despite our confusion with what to Twitter sometimes, it’s here to stay.

Twitter already provides a real-time news feed, locally sourced, on almost any topic. Today the “feed” is a bit thin for non-major events, but search on for even the most obscure subjects and you will get some contextual information. Because this tool is commonly accessed via a mobile phone, Twitter is also local to the news. Search for geeky information (#sxsw) and serious information, say US Airways 1549 — the airplane that successfully crash-landed in a river — and you get the idea. Not only the “what’s happening today”, but what, where, and when it happened is captured in an easy-to-digest stream.

Twitter is also a valuable, “crowdsourced” RSS reader. Every day I learn about silly, fun, and poignant content on the Internet just because of the people I follow on Twitter. With the advent of analytic tools like Twist, you can also see if the rest of the world thinks your LOLCats are funny or if it’s just you. Seriously, Twitter now provides an almost-real time feed to links and RSS feeds (and increasingly documents and pictures as well) using the same 140 characters that also funnel you interesting news, banal observations, and “where are u” Tweets.

Perhaps the most interesting incarnation of Twitter is the ability to ask questions of your “friends” and of the Twitterverse in general. You can use the #tag format to identify common themes, or simply ask a question to a person using an @reply, e.g. @grmeyer to ask me when my cat will start twittering. There are also services like Mahalo Answers that allow you to ask a question through Twitter to other communities and to receive replies. This type of integration is a powerful tool even in 140 character format.

Twitter is limited to 140 characters. Yet it provides focused, dynamic links into a larger world of information. By using Twitter to consume news, learn about new content, and communicate with friends (both in RL and online), we’re expanding the old medium of the water cooler to something new. Mobile water cooler? Not quite. All-knowing hive mind? Not quite. Something new and interesting, worth spending your time reviewing? Definitely.

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