Why Google Buzz Is a Bust—Especially for Black Folks


If you’ve logged onto your Gmail account lately, you’ve probably been invited to take a look at Buzz, Google’s first foray into the overcrowded world of social networking. After declining the initial promotional ad, I eventually gave in and clicked on the colorful Buzz icon innocuously positioned on my menu bar. After all, I’ve never met a Google application I didn’t like. (FYI: For those still using flash drives to tote around your masterpiece in progress—Try Google Docs.) But after watching the informational video, setting up my profile and creating a bit of online buzz, I have two words of advice: Don’t bother.

When I tried to explain to my friend what Google Buzz is, she said, “It sounds like Facebook and Twitter got married and birthed a baby through your e-mail account.” Um, pretty much. Buzz, like Facebook, allows you to post status updates, photos and more to your little section of cyberspace. And like Twitter, your friends are able to choose whether they’d like to “follow” you. But unlike its parents, baby Buzz allows you to leave your virtual mark without having to visit a separate Web site. Now, even those who never would have been interested in tracking your every move can do just that. All they have to do is make one extra click during a routine browse of their regular e-mail and—voila—you’re now on their “watch list.”


In order to distinguish itself from the primitive world of MySpace and other sites of yesteryear, Buzz is linked to other applications such as Blogger, Picasa and even Twitter, so that an update to any of those mediums equals an update to Buzz. This is where this application gets really dangerous, especially for those of us who live existences of code-switching and two-ness. (You know, those ideas that W.E.B. DuBois was talking about a hundred years ago, but still prove true today for the majority of black professionals straddling mainstream and culturally specific worlds, trying not to lose our balance.)

Imagine that you write a blog specifically geared toward issues of race and politics. Every time you update, the diverse group of friends with whom you communicate via Gmail will automatically receive your post, which may just be a take on television, T-Pain or Tiger Woods that you would’ve framed differently for a non-black audience.

Another scenario: You go to a club with your friends. The whole crew enjoys a back-to-college moment as you dramatically lip sync the first verse of a Lil’ Kim track a la 1997. When you upload the photos using Picasa software the following day, everyone who “follows” you online suddenly receives pictures of your somewhat inappropriate manipulation of an imaginary microphone—directly in their inboxes. While some may immediately understand the motivation after reading the “Hard-core” caption, others may wonder if they ever really know you at all.

Of course, all of these settings can be altered so that you’re not accidentally blasting your private or selective thoughts to your entire universe of acquaintances. But it’s too easy for Google Buzz, with its user-friendly look and feel, to unintentionally cause you to merge identities in ways that may forever change the way your “work friends” view you. And while it may be a unifying gesture to expose them to your music and your mindset, you want to be sure to do it on your own terms—not Google’s.

Rachel Skerritt is a novelist and chief of staff for Boston Public Schools.

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