Buzz vs. FriendFeed: 14 features I miss in Buzz

[Screenshot of Stephen Mack's feed in Google Buzz]

My feed in Google Buzz

If you use Gmail, you’re likely aware of Google’s new social networking service, Google Buzz, which launched this week.

It’s only the the third day of Buzz’s public existence, and I only received access yesterday, so my experience is very preliminary.

In contrast, I’ve been using FriendFeed since January of 2008, so with two years’ experience under my belt, FriendFeed feels very familiar to me, and naturally my bias is towards what I know.

As I wrap my head around Buzz, I want to like it and have it succeed, but there are quite a few aspects of the service I can’t help but find lacking. Here are the features that FriendFeed has that I miss the most in Buzz:

  1. Pause. Both FriendFeed and Buzz present a feed that updates in real-time. With FriendFeed, the play button (or q key) pauses/unpauses updates. With Buzz (on a browser, not on mobile), items I’m reading suddenly getting scrolled away and I can’t figure out how to stop that.
  2. Custom lists of users. With FriendFeed, I can create my own lists (“Co-workers” and “Relatives” and “Favorites”) and automatically filter their updates. That way, posts from my relatives and close personal friends don’t get lost in the noise. With Buzz, either I’m going to have not follow so many people or figure out some other strategy for not losing updates that are important to me. Most likely I’m going to have to unfollow a lot of people who followed me.
  3. “My discussions.” In FriendFeed, there’s an easy link for me to keep track of items I’ve liked or commented on. With Buzz, some of the items I’ve liked or participated in appear in my regular inbox, but not consistently and not in a simple list.
  4. Smart collapsing of long posts and comments. FriendFeed’s layout for keeping items compact until I click “more” or “more comments” is ingenious. Buzz wastes a lot of screen real estate by comparison. Especially on the mobile version.
  5. Smart, flexible hiding, including hiding by service. FriendFeed allows very smart ways to hide updates I’m not interested in. For example, I never care about anyone’s Foursquare updates. In FriendFeed I can hide an entire service, or many types of updates from a particular noisy user. Buzz offers no such automatic filters yet.
  6. Hiding duplicates. Buzz seems to have some bugs right now where an individual post by a user is displayed twice (or even more) in my feed in two separate places. It could be the user posted the item twice by accident. But also several people could post the same item (a news item, for example). FriendFeed automatically collapses duplicate items into a single line (“1 related entry from so-and-so”). Buzz desperately needs this.
  7. Bookmarklet for easy sharing. The FriendFeed bookmarklet is ingenious and easy to use, a button that appears on your browser’s toolbar that lets you easily share web content, including excerpts and images. Buzz lets you share a URL but doesn’t (yet?) intelligently create an excerpt of the page. (See screenshot.)
  8. Reposting to other services, such as Twitter. The absence of this one is flabbergasting to me. FriendFeed lets you bring in services and also “exports” your posts to other services, including Facebook (via an application) and Twitter. Buzz is a one-way street right now: It can bring in your items from multiple connections, but once inside Buzz, there it stays. It can’t become your Facebook status or a tweet.
  9. Groups and “Imaginary Friends.” Not everyone will join FriendFeed, so you can create a placeholder account on them that brings in their public content into the FriendFeed interface. Similarly, not everyone will join Buzz, so it’d be nice to be able to get someone’s chat content into the same UI. But that feature doesn’t seem to be available. On FriendFeed you can use this to create a “group” or “room” built from whatever content you like, such as the USGS earthquake feed or the Amazon MP3 deal of the day Twitter account.
  10. Plethora of supported services. Buzz currently seems to support somewhere around a dozen “connections” that can create items in buzz whenever you use the service: GChat status, Facebook updates, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, FriendFeed, Picasa, blog content, Google Reader, and probably others. But FriendFeed supports 58 services, including Amazon wishlists, Reddit and lots more.

    Screenshot of FriendFeed

    Screenshot of my feed in FriendFeed

  11. Customized profile page. Not a deal-breaker, but users today expect their profile page to have some customization. Maybe not to the extent that MySpace allows, but both Twitter and FriendFeed let you pick your background image and color scheme. Buzz relies on your Google Profile, which doesn’t allow you to customize the layout or color scheme or background at all. (Buzz inherits your Gmail theme, so you can control how things look on your screen, but that doesn’t display for anyone else. Thus everyone’s feed looks the same.)
  12. Posting of text and photos simultaneously via e-mail. From my mobile phone I can take a picture, and e-mail it to share@friendfeed.com. The subject line of the e-mail becomes the subject of the posted item. Up to three pictures can be posted. Any text in the body of the e-mail become included with the item, as the first comment in FriendFeed. Buzz allows you to send a picture to buzz@gmail.com, but any text outside of the subject is ignored.
  13. Friend of a friend discovery. In FriendFeed, if I follow my friend Georgia, and she “likes” an item from her friend Lani, then I automatically see that item from Lani and can then choose to follow Lani as well. In this manner you can expand your social network and meet new people with shared interests. With Buzz, I don’t have any option to see items that Georgia liked, unless I already follow the person who posted the item. (Note that FriendFeed is flexible and lets you hide friend-of-friend updates if you prefer.)
  14. Flexible notification channels. Depending on my preferences, I can have FriendFeed notify me in several ways whenever a particular person posts, or if an item I posted gets comments. I can get an IM, a desktop popup via a standalone application, or an e-mail, either in real-time or at the end of the day.

So what does Buzz do better? Its mobile version is location-aware, and there’s a very interesting implementation with Google maps for following local updates. I was able to see someone post about a special offer at a restaurant near where I pick up my kids from their preschool, for example. Location awareness could be a tremendous change to how I interact with social media. Buzz also makes it very easy to e-mail an item to someone. Notification of new followers is handled real-time on screen, and it’s very easy to reciprocate. (FriendFeed notifies you of new followers via e-mail, so following back is less real-time and a tiny bit more of an effort.) Buzz has better keyboard controls than FriendFeed’s keyboard controls, having inherited the excellent Gmail keyboard implementation. I’m sure there’s more. But I can’t think of anything else yet.

In any consumer space, first-mover advantage is of course critical, because it builds mindshare and market share quickly via the head-start on the competition. But the competition gets a huge advantage also, because they don’t have to create the market, they don’t have to educate users on the category, and they can copy-and-paste the feature set while offering refinements and new features.

But if the competition only copies SOME of what the original offers, they can only succeed either by excellent marketing, an improved implementation on the core feature set, or because of a built-in audience from the brand name or related product. Google has copied some of what FriendFeed offered two years ago. But they really copied only a small subset, and as far as I can see even the core functionality of Buzz needs a lot of work: Counters are buggy, the layout is ugly and hard to follow, and the integration with Gmail feels intrusive and clumsy.

But it’s from Google, and by bolting it onto Gmail (which I use heavily and find to be the best web-based e-mail solution in existence), Buzz has instantly catapulted into a dominant position in the social media space, because they can make all 150 million Gmail users aware of it and even force them to try it.

5 Responses to “Buzz vs. FriendFeed: 14 features I miss in Buzz”

  1. Zatz Says:

    Better get used to Buzz since Facebook owns FriendFeed. And you know how often they redesign their site. 😉 I’m sticking with Twitter… Just wish they’d integrate pictures and shortlinks directly. But, yeah, a real profile page (Twitter or Buzz) would be nice too.

  2. Stephen Says:

    Dave Z., I’ll post my list of frustrations with Twitter on another day!

    Today I pulled the plug on Buzz and will check back in 60 days. I find it too frustrating to use right now.

    I’m not worried about FF going away, even after the FB purchase. And FB’s latest redesign is my favorite iteration of FB yet, so it may be that I end up spending most of my time here on my own site and on FB.

    I’m not writing off Buzz entirely. The fact they made improvements today, on the first week of release, speaks to how fast they can iterate. I look forward to revisiting this post in 60 days.

  3. Mark Essel Says:

    Hey I think DeWitt would appreciate this list, it’s fantastic.

  4. Zatz Says:

    I just killed Buzz too, for the short term. I was getting a bit creeped out by my work associates automatically following me there. My blog/tweet life and my day job usually have a nice air gap between them. As it should be. Buzz ‘s Gmail integration and auto-follow (which is no more?) obliterates that.

  5. Google Buzz doesn’t KISS by @ScepticGeek Says:

    […] active in providing feedback for the Buzz team. For example, see this buzz post linking a post on 14 Things that can be improved about Google Buzz that compares Buzz with FriendFeed, which was apparently cross-posted to the Buzz team’s internal […]

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