Click here to preview the new Fast Company

Want to try out the new

If you’d like to return to the previous design, click the yellow button on the lower left corner.

Google Buzz: "Are You at Work? How About a $.99 Big Mac From McDonald's, Three Blocks Away?"

google buzz

You're waking up to an Internet a-Buzz with talk about Google's new social sharing experiment. Opinions are mixed, but mainly concern the current version of Buzz. So here's our thought experiment about its future. It's scary.

Google's Buzz presentation started by showing its desktop implementation, and demonstrated how Buzz will be threaded through the Gmail accounts of Google users, acting as a life-casting/status-updating tool, a content-sharing system, and a chat tool. Right off the bat it even looks at your email and chat history and works out who it thinks your best friends are for Buzzing. But then Google went on to demonstrate the mobile version of Buzz, which is actually a whole lot more powerful.

Mobile Buzz uses tons of location-based data from your smartphone's A-GPS circuitry to work out where you are, and then feeds that information to your Buzz friends, should you chose to transmit it. It even combines your information to work out your location in a colloquial language—not merely asking, "Are you at 7 World Trade Center?" but rather, "Are you at work?" Google's algorithm then scours through the mass of all ongoing Buzz and shapes some of the content to what it thinks you'd prefer to see, before delivering to you the "nearby Buzz." Which will include stuff from friends, people Google thinks you may be interested in hearing from and, of course, companies that may try to sell you their wares.

This mode of operation is like pieces of Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp, and a bagful of augmented reality apps all blended into one Google system. A system that's threaded throughout all of the ways you interact with Google—even its primary search engine.

But remember: Google isn't really a search engine, or a chat tool, or an email provider. It's an online advertisement-pushing juggernaut. And, assuming Buzz takes off, in just a few iterations of its development this is the sort of Buzz-powered day you could be having.

Google Buzz7 a.m. Smartphone alarm wakes you, and you quickly scan it for emails, SMSs, and Buzz. Since Google knows you were at the bar last night, it offers you an ad for a hangover cure.

7:30 a.m. Commuting to work. Browsing your tablet PC on the train, among the string of emails, light web-browsing, and casual Buzz-chatting you do, Google serves you with an ad for a new coffee shop that's opened on your usual walking route from the station to the office. It also knows you're late, and a Buzz-linked local taxi company Buzzes you to check if you'd like a ride from the station so you can make that 8:15 meeting that's scheduled in your Gmail calendar.

Google Buzz10:30 a.m. Collaborative work-base Buzz chat on your current project. Buzz knows you're working, so tones down the frequency and pixel-size of its embedded ads, and stops actively Buzzing you, but pops up adverts that match the theme of your work. Along with placements for MBAs from local colleges, since it knows your education history. And also sneaky adverts for jobs elsewhere that might interest you, based on your demonstrated areas of expertise.

Google Buzz12:15 p.m.. Lunch. The local Buzz-linked McDonald's Buzzes you and asks "Are you hungry for a Big Mac? You liked it last week. Or maybe you're in the mood for our lunchtime hangover cure special: A baconburger?" A local gymnasium ad pops up next, with a special sign-up deal for new members valid for an hour, and a note that two of your work colleagues go there already—one of whom you're friends with and the other of whom is more senior, as Buzz is careful to remind you.

Google Buzz6:00 p.m. Hometime. Idly checking your smartphone to see what your pals are up to, as you shut down your work PC, Buzz knows that three of you are heading roughly the same way inside the next half hour. A local bar Buzzes all of you to suggest a post-work beer.

And so on...

This is a pure thought experiment. But we know exactly how much Google loves to serve up ads to us as users, and that it would love to make them ultra-precisely targeted—using location data, habit data and so on. Google already collects reams of data about your web-use patterns. And by leaping on the social network/social sharing bandwagon, Google is weaving itself ever deeper into your daily life, using Buzz as a vehicle.

Of course, other companies are doing stuff like this too. But Buzz, if it's successful, will brush competition from small fry like Mozilla's (promising sounding) Raindrop, and even Google's own bizarre Wave project aside. And with Buzz's deep-embedded real-time tap on your life and both passive and pushed advertising, alongside its arch-rival Apple's extensive plans for location-aware ads, the upshot is that there may not be a moment in your day when you're not sharing deeply-personal data with Google, and having personalized ads thrust upon you.

Sound like the kind of future you'd like to live in?

[Google Buzz]

To learn more follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter. Not Buzz. Yet.

Add New Comment


  • Ray Roberts

    I read this with dismay. Althought I am in the industry, I dislike the ethics of google setting up the great gmail that I subscribed to years ago and then making it a money making tool in the manner it has. Initially there were no ads, no social marketing - I found that I had so many people requesting linkedin link up that it was time-consuming. It was a quiet place before. Easy to work with. Now... which one of you is oging to come up with an add free social marketing free email thta is as good as gmail to use? Yes, I also wonder where all the readers of 1984 have gone? How easily we forget.


  • October Surprise

    >This is a pure thought experiment.

    This article makes it pretty clear that you have not actually learned anything about buzz or the settings, or really the fact that it is opt-in and you are using a free service offered by a private company.

    It is also really hilarious that to post on your blog, I have to connect my facebook page. Facebook demands my real name, phone number, etc before letting me take full advantage of it. Hypocrite much?

    I urge all the readers of this blog post to actually GO LOOK AT BUZZ FOR YOURSELF. There are a lot of outright lies being pushed by the blogosphere right now.

  • Alistair Williams

    I think that there are going to be a large number of these services appearing over the next few years. Although Google has clout with the other services that they can integrate into the augmented reality service, the real deciding factor into which will become the most dominant will undoubtely be who wins the mobile penetration war.

    Not sure if Buzz is the ultimate winner here.....


    Al Williams, Coffee Marketing Consutancy

  • Dan Keldsen

    Welcome to Blade Runner, Minority Report, or any number of Sci-Fi predictions. Better hope that our personal filters can keep up in tuning out the ambient and augmented reality noise. I'm all for contextual information, but keep some non-AI (and non-Google or anyone else) controls out in the open for us to directly manipulate.

  • zerubbabel olu-adeyemi

    I think google is doing a great job bringing target-advertising to reality.As we all know the ad overload we consumers experience on daily basis....instant buzz will revolutionise the way we interact,socialize and ultimately do business.

  • Gregory Ferenstein

    Are the privacy concerns valid if the ad process is automated?


  • Jason Baer

    Just one more example of how Google is "making information accessible," the company's true brand idea (though we all know that advertising revenue is the lifeblood of the business). I just wonder whether the location-based ads will fit with their motto: Do No Evil. Incidentally, what did you think of their superbowl spot? Click here to comment:

  • Greg Steggerda

    Well, Mel, so far the private sector hasn't lost any of my personal data. The government has. DoD misplaced a laptop with my data on it and so notified me by e-mail; IRS sent my Social Security summary to an address half a mile away by transposing two digits. It's not paranoia if it's true.

  • Mel Blitzer

    I am always amazed about how paranoid Americans are about their government. You should probably be more concerned about the private sector as this article clearly points out.

    With lobbyists and the military/industrial complex having so much influence over decisions made by the members of the legislative bodies, you are more isolated from government by "we,the people" than ever.

    Mel Blitzer

  • Greg Steggerda

    Agree with Tim, but Google isn't the real problem with privacy, the government is. All of my military and tax records already exist electronically, and a laptop with my military retirement data was once "misplaced" for a week. Health records are next. If my identity is ever stolen, it seems likely Uncle Sam and not Google will be to blame.

  • Greg Steggerda

    Nothing is free. Someone is always footing the bill, and that someone wants something out of it. At least with ads, I know what the agenda is. I prefer that over someone skewing content in a more subtle attempt to influence me.

  • Tim Johnson

    Am I the only person still alive who read "1984"?

    Orwell thought it would require oppressive force to make us live in Big Brother's world. But Google knows we're so eager to drink the convenience Kool-Aid that we'll gladly forfeit control of our private life data and personal communication in exchange for some cute doo-dads, especially if they make sure we know their slogan is "Don't be evil."

    Am I also the only person alive who remembers anti-trust, anti-monopoly laws?

    How big and invasive does this juggernaut have to get before it changes its slogan to "We may be the only information resource left on the planet, but we try not to act like it"?

    Tim Johnson, President
    Coactive Brand Lab
    Brand Designer, Marketing and Communications Expert

  • Mel Blitzer

    Last Sunday I checked out of the Super Bowl because I was really fed up with being bombarded with advertising. It seems these days there is no escape and one has to wonder what effects this constant "noise" has on the mind,and our politics. Richard Sennett in the Culture of the New Capitalism talks about the "gold plating" of candidates who are marketed to the public. Building on surface differences allows people like Sarah Palin to gain tremendous media exposure for all the wrong reasons and adds to the polarization which is currently paralyzing effective government in the USA.

    Mel Blitzer

  • John Havens

    First off, Kit, thanks for all your excellent articles on Augmented Reality, the Outernet, etc. Great stuff. In terms of Buzz, love the predictive future you posit above but wanted to add the notion of "Virtual Air Rights" in the sense that through Augmented Reality many of the ads you talk about above will be put directly in your field of vision when you raise your mobile device to take a picture, etc. And if you're using Google Buzz in that process, Google can share whatever ads they want, and potentially even cover up actual ads/billboards directly in front of your actual location. Our virtual landscape is currently up for grabs in this degree and it's both exciting and positive (virtual signs for hospital in a foreign location when your kids are sick)and freakish (virtual spam, tech-stalking). More on this here if interested:

    Thanks again and cheers,
    John C. Havens
    SVP, Social Media

  • David Osedach

    I welcome GOOGLE Buzz social networking! I'm in and out of gmail thirty plus times a day.

  • Ellen Moore

    This has the potential to be wonderful, but more likely, complete "adness." I work for an ad agency in Baltimore. We're trying to get people to join us to change the landscape of advertising. We believe advertising can be welcome and invited into a consumer's life rather than an obnoxious intrusion, which is the current state according to research. I hope google offers an option that enables people to select what they receive or not. If they do that, and genuinely listen to consumers, I think the technology could be great. If they serve ads just because they can, they're likely to wind up on our Wall of Shame. Currently, they sit on our Wall of Fame for their Superbowl spot. It was the best of the night in my opinion. Take a look and join the conversation to let us know how we can make advertising better: