Welcome, Google Buzz! Now...where do I comment?

When your engineers have 20% of their time to use on projects of their choosing, you get a lot of interesting product ideas. If nothing else, Google is amazingly unshy about pushing these products and services to their users, even if some start out somewhat incomplete and poorly integrated. Enter Google's newest offering, Google Buzz. Unlike some previous Google attempts at social media, this one is going to work in a big way.

First, Google integrated Buzz right into Gmail, the reason most of us have Google accounts in the first place. There are plenty of seats at the Google Labs table, but not many projects get to sit at the front with Gmail. Second, your contact list pre-establishes a social network. Third, if you use Google Profile, you already had established information about yourself and the content you create. Fourth, if you create content with Blogger or Reader, your Buzz account is pre-primed with content. Who else could have done this? Nobody. (Even though Buzz is more like FriendFeed than anything else, Buzz will succeed where FriendFeed didn't because of these things I've just mentioned. Honestly, though, life might have been easier if the world would have just used FriendFeed from the beginning and forgotten about Twitter and Facebook.)

Posting content is easier than ever, and (thankfully!) sharing that content between services is relatively easy. I can post to Twitter and my tweet automatically shows up in Facebook, FriendFeed, and Buzz. I can take upload a picture from my phone and Flickr automatically sends a tweet, spreading the photo everywhere. (Unfortunately, Facebook, FriendFeed, and now Buzz also monitor Flickr separately, so that photo comes twice.) Social networks almost appear effortless, except for one major thing: COMMENTS.

The interaction of users and content is what makes this social media, but with every new service that interaction gets increasingly fractured. Let's look at my last scenario: posting a picture from my phone to Flickr. If you want to make a comment about that picture, where should you put it? Let's count the choices:
  1. You can comment on Flickr.
  2. You can reply to the tweet generated by Flickr.
  3. You can comment on the photo on Facebook (which pulls the photo from Flickr).
  4. You can comment on the Flickr-generated tweet on Facebook (which pulls the tweet from Twitter).
  5. You can comment on the photo on FriendFeed (which pulls the photo from Flickr).
  6. You can comment on the Flickr-generated tweet on FriendFeed (which pulls the tweet from Twitter).
  7. You can comment on the photo on Buzz (which pulls the photo from Flickr).
  8. You can comment on the Flickr-generated tweet on Buzz (which pulls the tweet from Twitter).
With my current setup, comments could appear in eight different places. I could reduce that if I don't tell Facebook, FriendFeed, or Buzz to watch my Flickr photos (they'd still get the tweets), but those services do a much better job of displaying photos if they know they're from Flickr and not just a URL-shortened link in a tweet. There will be no less than four places to comment on this blog post, and probably double that if I send a tweet announcing the post.

As my friend @jamurra replied to me tonight, "We need a federated comment system on the web." The only service I've seen really attempting to address this problem is Disqus, but it appears they've only been able to partially solve the problem. (I'm not a Disqus user, and if I had more comments on my blog I think I'd be more serious about signing up.) I'm sure people are working on this, but it seems like a technical nightmare. It's easy for data to get copied and distributed; in fact, the internet does exactly that better than any invention known to man. But how to "undistribute" the comments and get them back to one place? Let's hope some smart people at Google are using their 20% time wisely on this one.

Feel free to comment on this post. I'll leave it to you to decide where.

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