How to use Google Buzz

If you're a Gmail user, chances are you have Google Buzz in your inbox. Here's how to make the most of it (or get rid of it)

On Tuesday, Google announced Buzz, a new social networking service integrated with Gmail. On Wednesday, you probably mashed your F5 key waiting for it to arrive in your Gmail account--and maybe you even tried to cut in line. By Thursday, you were likely worried about the privacy issues. Well, if you're buzzing about Buzz, we have the tips you need to make it work for you. And if you're wishing it would buzz off, we'll show you how to remove it from your Gmail account.

Keep Buzz Out of Your Inbox

Google Buzz's default settings send you an e-mail notification every time someone mentions you in a post with an @ reference or replies to one of your buzzes. Since all this stuff also shows up in your Buzz stream anyway, the redundant reminders get annoying fast.

Fortunately, Buzz e-mail notifications are easy to eliminate with Gmail's filter tools. Just click the Create a filter link at the top of the page, to the right of the search field. In the 'Has the words' field, type label:buzz and click OK. In the next screen, select Skip the Inbox and Mark as read to ensure that the message doesn't show in the inbox or set off your Gmail notifications (alternatively, you can choose to delete the notifications entirely).

(For more Buzz filtering tips, read "Google Buzz: 5 Tips for Power Users.")

Hide Your Followers

While Twitter users adore broadcasting their follower counts to the world, Buzz users have plenty of good reasons to keep such information private--particularly since in Buzz, the following/follower lists are not attached just to a cryptic pseudonym but to publicly viewable account names complete with a first name, a last name, and in many cases an e-mail address and links to Picasa and Blogger accounts.

Combined with Buzz's opt-out privacy policy and automatically suggested followers, this arrangement can lead to uncomfortable situations for some users, such as one user who ended up automatically adding his landlord, another who involuntarily added a one-time contact from a Craigslist transaction, and still another whose list somehow included her abusive ex-husband. If you don't want your contacts to be a matter of public record, you can hide your following/follower list by going to your Google Profile, choosing Edit Profile, and unchecking the Display the list of people I'm following and people following me box.

Learn to Love the Side Menu

If your Buzz feed is getting out of hand, look for several management features embedded in the drop-down menu in the top-right corner of each post. For other people's buzzes, you can choose to mute a particularly active buzz that you don't care about, or stop following that person. For your own buzzes, you can mute, edit the content of a buzz, delete some of the comments, or delete the buzz itself.

Prep Your Contacts List

Buzz's privacy settings are based on your Gmail contacts list, so if you haven't already set that up you'll want to go through it before getting too busy with Buzz. You can do so via the Contacts menu on the left side of the Gmail window (just click the New Groups button to the left of the Search Contacts field), or through the Buzz input box's privacy settings (click the Public button and pick Private to get the option to publish to existing Contacts groups or create a new group).

You'll probably want to create a few commonly used groups before diving into Buzz--having to spend a few minutes dealing with the privacy settings each time you want to post a new buzz to a new group kind of kills the spontaneity of it all. (Also, the Buzz Web app doesn't let you specify new groups--you have to do it from the normal Gmail page.)

Tie Your Sites Together

Now that you have your Buzz feed under control, it's time to start tying in your various social networks. When Buzz first surfaced in your Gmail account, you created a Google Profile (if you didn't have one already). At that time, you should have had the option to link other networks to your Buzz account--Flickr and Picasa accounts for sharing pictures, for example, or your Blogger feed. As of this writing, you can officially link only Blogger, Flickr, Picasa, your Google Reader Shared Items, GChat status, and Twitter accounts to your Buzz feed, though WordPress blogs can connect to Google Buzz with a little more work.

To add these sites, just click over to the Buzz tab in your Gmail and click the X Connected Sites link to bring up a window that lets you pick which ones to add. If you have an account or a page you want to link that isn't showing up, go over to your Google Profile, click Edit Profile (in the upper-right corner) and add it to your Links list there.

While you're connecting these sites, you can also set them to share only to certain groups of friends, which is worth doing if you don't want buzzes about your public tweets, photos, and so on to be indexed by Google as part of your Buzz account.

Keep in mind that if you're an avid user of Google Reader, all of your Shared Items will also be posted as buzzes. This means that anyone following you through Buzz and Reader (which is bound to be a decent amount of your follower base, considering that Buzz pulls from your Google Reader followers) is going to get hit with twice the posts, so you might want to consider keeping them separate until Google comes out with more-integrated sharing functions.

Buzz by E-Mail

You can Buzz via e-mail by sending a message to buzz@gmail.com. This works only with messages sent from your Gmail address, though, so SMS and MMS items sent through an e-mail gateway won't do the trick.

Since you can't define privacy permissions within an e-mail, you need to set them in advance. Start by sending a test e-mail to buzz@gmail.com; once it goes through, you'll see that the Connected Sites option now includes privacy settings for 'Posted via Buzz@Gmail'. Set it to Public or Private as you wish.

At the moment, only the e-mail's image and subject heading will show up in the buzz. Anything you put in the main e-mail field will not.

POP/IMAP mail-client users will want to read Gmail's desktop client support page for help in making sure that they're sending from the right address (for more, see "Google Buzz: 5 Tips for Power Users").

Touch Up Your Text

Though Google Buzz's input box lacks the rich text formatting options of an e-mail or blog post, you can still use a few tricks to make your text stand out. Bracketing your text with *asterisks*, _underscores_, and -dashes- will turn it into bold, italicized, and struck-through text, respectively.

Grab Some Add-Ons

Already, a handful of Buzz add-ons to help you integrate Buzz into your social life have surfaced. Firefox users should check out Buzz It, which lets you share your current Web page in Buzz via Gmail (useful if you want to keep your Google Reader shares separate from your Buzz shares.) Chrome users have Chrome Buzz, which adds a menu item that keeps tabs on your Buzz feed so that you don't have to keep checking back to the Gmail page. And WordPress users can add their buzzes to their WordPress blog with the Google Buzz ER sidebar widget.

Push Your Buzzes to Twitter

You can peruse your Google Buzz feed just as you would read any other RSS feed by going to the URL http://buzz.googleapis.com/feeds/username/public/posted, where username is your Google account name. This is a feed of all your public buzzes, which can then appear in any application that can use RSS feeds--handy if you want to see buzzes in an RSS reader, for example.

Combine this feature with TwitterFeed, a service that lets you use RSS feeds to publish in Facebook and Twitter, and you can get Google Buzz to publish your buzzes to Twitter. The arrangement isn't perfect--the RSS feed refreshes every 30 minutes--but considering that there's no native support for Buzz-to-Twitter publishing, it's worth trying out for now. You'll want to set TwitterFeed to post only the description, or you'll end up with a lot of tweets saying "Buzz from your username"; to do so, under Advanced Settings in the Create Feed page, set 'Post Content' to Include description only.

Kill Buzz Dead

Gone through all this and still don't like what Buzz has to offer? You're not alone. Unfortunately, truly getting rid of Buzz takes some doing.

You can disable Buzz by scrolling down to the bottom of your Gmail page and clicking the tiny turn off buzz link, but that won't get rid of it completely--you'll still have followers and connected sites, you just won't see them from the Gmail page. (Logging in through the mobile Web app, for example, should still work fine.)

Before you eliminate Buzz entirely, you need to go through a few steps. From the main Buzz page, click the Following X People link and unfollow everyone; then click on the X followers link and block everyone. Next, you need to delete your Google Profile: Go to Google Profiles, select View My Profile, Edit profile, scroll down to the bottom of the screen, and select Delete profile.

Once you've done that, disable Buzz from the Gmail window. You'll have successfully killed your Buzz.

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Patrick Miller

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