Social Media in Your Inbox?

The month of February brought news of two developments in the social media marketplace. One,  an ill-fated debut of  Google’s service called Buzz, a second almost under the radar announcement by Microsoft, about social media plug-ins for Outlook.

If you are a person who has not chosen to clutter your life with the streams of social media, you may not care about this sort of stuff.  If you have accepted your fate and are attempting to kayak your way through the rapidly changing currents of social media, a bunch of  house-sized  boulders just got dropped in the river.  I know for me trying to wrap my head around the idea of of my social media life flowing through my inbox has been perplexing, tantalizing and something I am taking with caution.  First up, the simple one – Microsoft.

In February, Microsoft reported that the previously announced  Outlook Social Connector, a series of  plug-ins to allow streams of social media to be incorporated into your in-box, was ready.  Linkedin is the first service up, but Facebook and MySpace are also due this spring. The option will be included in the spring release of Outlook 2010 but will be also compatible with Outlook 2007, and 2003.

More complex and confusing was Google flipping the switch and turning on its Buzz service.  Buzz has the same underlying premise about pulling social media streams together and integrating them through your Gmail inbox.  Google’s move was previously unannounced, and it just appeared as an option in your Gmail. From the instant of the launch the cry from the user community was loud and harsh, especially because the roll out had privacy issues because by default it integrated your Google contacts with Google’s social media tools without discrimnation. Two reported examples were a woman with an abusive ex-boyfriend who when she clicked on Buzz,  found her current contact list (including her new boyfriend’s contact information) exposed in the social stream. Another reported faux-pas was a doctor who used her Gmail to communicate with her patients and inadvertently was up to her HIPAAs in trouble as Buzz seamlessly integrated her patient list with her new Google based social stream. There are class action lawsuits filed. Now to their credit Google responded quickly and within a week had put in-place more controls that force opt-in choices. However, in most corners the reports are that Google clearly blew it on the roll out and most folks are taking a good long look before taking the leap. If you have not clicked on the Buzz icon in your Gmail, it would be worth a quick trip around the Internet to survey the current state of affairs and opinions on the service before you do.

The explosive growth of social services such as Facebook (which just broke 400 millions users) and Twitter are seen as new waves crashing on the technology shore. They are new enough to the scene that  educators are still trying to figure out what they mean to schools and life in general.  And yet, these two developments by MIcrosoft and Google may be looking to the next wave in the tsunami.

There is a fascinating (to me anyway) discussion in the Episode 29 podcast of This Week in Google between folks who have been thinking about social media deeply, understand it, understand Google, and where they think it is going. It was recorded right after the launch, while the privacy concerns were still raging and it is full of inside baseball terms such as data silos, and federated services, and obscure social media services such as Jiaku and Friend Feed. So, while it is not for everybody, I found it a a heady discussion by very smart people who were reacting to Google tilting the playing field, and trying to parse out what it means for the future of social media.  It made me think, and I recommend it to you.

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