Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Buzz

There’s an article in this morning’s New York Times about the uproar caused by the new Google Buzz’s  grabbing of Gmail’s address book information. To many users—even those used to the pervasive sharing of info on services like Facebook and Twitter—this is a step too intrusive. As an old guy, used to earlier standards of privacy, I naturally agree.

I use Gmail, though, and, obviously, Blogger, both Google services. So my privacy is already profoundly compromised.

For example, Blogger has this little “Next Blog” link at the top of the home page. Back when I was starting this blog, I clicked on it a few times, and was taken to what seemed like random blog after random blog. Interestingly uninteresting. I hadn’t clicked on it for ages, but did last night. How odd, I thought, when a whole sequence of baseball blogs popped up. It dawned on me that Google was doing some mining in this blog, and based on that was helping me find others that might be of interest.

I kept pressing the button to see what would happen. Baseball eventually gave way to running. A minor intervention took me to old-guy running; which eventually shifted to triathlons; then a sharp and unexpected turn into philosophy and faith; then onward to what I think you’d have to call parenting (some very odd stuff there, let me tell you); then, incomprehensibly, a science fiction loop (science fiction! me?) that wouldn’t let go.

But, I thought, I write a lot more in this blog about walking and running and babies (one baby, actually) than about baseball. What’s with the introductory 25 fan sites?* Then the penny dropped. Google wasn’t looking at my blog. It was looking at what it takes to be me. Google my name and you get a lot of references to baseball books, journals, reviews, and so forth. That’s not actually the me of 2010 (or 2005, or even 2000), but it is, I suppose, a collection of my most visible footprints. So Alvarez presses “Next Blog,” the little man inside Google shouts, “Baseball!,” and the crew shoveling material out onto the conveyor belt opens the right box and dumps out a pile of National Pastime. Flawed, weird, cool, and creepy.

I know Google promotes this sort of thing as being for my benefit and convenience, not that of marketers, salesmen, random nosy parkers, or "friends"—or even friends. But Buzz has just re-emphasized the extent to which Google has us packaged, and how few and hazy are the limits. This is making even the hip uncomfortable. Good.

* Most of the Google-chosen diamond blogs aren’t at all to my taste. Of course, my taste is a little arcane. For my money, the best baseball blog out there is this one, by a friend who is too busy to post more often. Baseball’s best researcher at work.

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