Google’s new social networking tool: How Buzz-worthy is it?

Raise your hand if you have social media overload. My hand is held high, even if you can’t tell by the illustrated headshot next to this column.

A maddening array of social media networks has popped up in recent years, targeting your tastes and even your aspirations. They include sites for food lovers (Yelp), music fans (, long-forgotten kindergarten classmates (Facebook), spoiled children of wealthy parents (A Small World), job seekers (LinkedIn), Brazilians (Orkut) and lovers of short-form witty banter (Twitter). Then there are the social networks that were once the cat’s meow—MySpace and Friendster—that have fallen so far out of social standing that no one in their right mind would risk their virtual reputation by hanging out there anymore.

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Now comes Google Buzz, another tool for people who like to share nebulous connections with people they probably don’t know very well. And yes, like many of the networks I’ve mentioned above—aside from the ones for Brazilians and spoiled rich kids—you’ll find me there.

Still, after just a few short weeks, I’m already thinking of turning off Google Buzz.

The social network sits squarely between Facebook and Twitter. Like Facebook, you can share photos with friends, post links to stories and upload videos. The content of these links show up right in your Buzz feed, unlike Twitter, which requires you to click on posted links for more information.

I have no quibbles with the way Google Buzz is set up—in fact, I like many of its features. But enough already. Managing a virtual social life is getting downright cumbersome. (As evidenced by my Yelp profile picture: I know I should really change it; it’s been on my to-do list for a while. The photo features me and my 2-year-old son. He’s 6 now.)

I already spend too many hours tooling around Facebook and Twitter, disrupting work productivity as I peruse thoughts from friends. (“Right size your thinking while you right size your finances,” one professes, while another solemnly proclaims, “Eventually, I’ll learn how to buy the right amount of salmon. I’m not having an army over for dinner, yet I could feed one.”)

How big of a time-suck is social networking? Well, I’ve paused six times during the writing of this column to check Twitter. (And I’m only halfway through writing the first draft.) According to Facebook, the average user spends more than 55 minutes per day on that site. (That’s 20,075 minutes, 334.5 hours, 13.94 days, or nearly two weeks straight spent on Facebook a year.)

Still, there is value to participating on social networks: I’ve gotten valuable business leads from LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook; catching up with old friends is fun; and tools like Twitter are often the best way to hear about breaking news, even if the initial reports are filled with inaccuracies.

Still, there are several aspects of social networking that I don’t like.

First, as a journalist, I’m dismayed by how destructive social networking has been to print media. Instead of reading a book, magazine or a newspaper, our noses are buried in smart phones, checking Facebook status updates and following the links friends have posted Twitter. Meanwhile, more and more of our news comes from a silo comprised of like-minded social acquaintances. We as a society are growing increasingly accustomed to consuming our news in a blurry of short, under-reported posts that, in reality, serve as bite-size informational snacks.

Another issue with social networking (and Google Buzz, especially) is privacy. Almost immediately after Google launched its new service, the search giant faced an outcry from privacy advocates and regular people who were stunned to discover that their e-mail addresses could suddenly be snatched out of cyberspace. (Google didn’t set up an upfront process for joining the social network; everyone with a Gmail address—176 million accounts and growing, according to comScore—was added automatically.)

Google has since made changes to address these concerns, much like Facebook and MySpace had to do when members felt similarly overexposed.

What’s more, I’ve found Google Buzz to be inconsistent and slow compared with other social networks. Still, it has potential and could engage people who have so far stayed away from social networking.

I prefer the mobile version of Google Buzz (which is available for most smart phones) because it connects to your phone’s built-in GPS capabilities to tag the location of your updates. This allows you follow the “buzz” from nearby friends, which makes a great tip sheet for restaurants. The overlay with Google Maps, which allows you to see where the most active stream of comments comes from, is a powerful tool that can alert you about events as they are happening—whether it’s a concert, a sporting event or a traffic jam.

I’ve been Buzzing for a few weeks now but I still feel it’s too early to give Google Buzz a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down. At this point, I don’t think this new interface is compelling enough to compete with all of the other time-sucks I’m already using—but I thought Twitter was stupid at first, too, and I have since come to embrace the microblogging tool with open arms. Still, I’m starting to think that instead of engaging in yet another mobile social network, it might be more useful to unplug a little and start using my smart phone to do something else. Like, you know, call someone every now and again.

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Oh, what a difference a year can make: Last year Kourtney Kardashian hosted an anti-Valentine’s Day party at Tao but fast forward 365 days and the once-heartbroken reality TV personality is happily married—and for a while, already—to basketballer Lamar Odom. Meanwhile, her sister, Kourtney Kardashian, now has a child. With Khloe married and Kourtney mommied, it was middle sister Kim Kardashian’s responsibility to pick up the party hosting slack over Valentine’s Day weekend—and that’s just what she did.