When Google Buzz came out last week, most of my friends spent the first day messing with it and then promptly turned it off or ignored it. Everyone is already using Facebook, and some of them are on Twitter; the last thing we need is another social network to check. Nevertheless, I think there are some important reasons why we ought to hope that Buzz supplants Facebook as the dominant social network.
While I still find the Buzz user interface to be inferior to Facebook’s, it is important to look beneath the UI to see what Buzz is all about: open protocols. You can visit the Buzz API page to see what protocols are in use. The three that I find most interesting are PubSubHubbub (a.k.a. PuSH), Salmon, and WebFinger.
PuSH is about distributing content in real time. Any subscriber or client that is PuSH enabled can subscribe to any publisher that is PuSH enabled and get new content as soon as it is available. I recently outfitted my blog with PuSH, which means that new posts show up immediately in Google Reader and in Buzz.
Salmon is about unifying comment streams. If you spend time on both Google Reader and Google Buzz, you will notice that comments on one service get transferred to the other service. Imagine this happening across the whole web. That is the point of Salmon.
WebFinger is a way to get profile information and other data from an email address. If your email provider supports webfinger (just Gmail so far), someone who knows your email address can access whatever profile information you want to be made public. This means that disparate web services can find each other, so your Twitter account can discover your Flickr account.
Putting these protocols (and others) together, it becomes clear that Buzz is not just another social network. It is a recipe for a decentralized social network. Once the Buzz API is complete, if Yahoo! wanted to, they could launch a social network that would completely integrate with Buzz. So could anyone else. The result will be a less monopolized social networking experience, which will ultimately be a better social networking experience.
Dear Facebook: 1994 called, and they want AOL back.