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.
7 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.
10:30 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.
12:15 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.
6:00 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?