Updated: February 17, 2010 at 11:40 a.m. PT. Google has changed the disabling procedure for Google Buzz. You can read about the change here. February 11, 2010 at 12:15 p.m. PT to share a new rollout that Google implemented to better manage (and block) contacts. Also added a note about profile privacy.
My colleague Molly Wood called it a privacy nightmare, but to many, Google's new social-networking tool Buzz is at its root an unwanted, unasked for pest. The way some of us see it, we didn't opt in to some newfangled Twitter system and we don't particularly want to see updates from contacts we never asked to follow creep up in our Buzz in-box. Call us what you will, but for curmudgeonly types like us, Buzz isn't so much social networking as it is socially awkward networking. We tried it, we didn't like it, and now it has to go.
Here's how we silenced Buzz from the desktop:
Step 0: Don't disable Buzz--yet
The automatic reaction is to scroll to the very bottom of Gmail and click the words "turn off buzz." But all this does is remove active links, leaving your profile still publicly available, along with any public buzzes you might have made while trying Buzz out. In fact, you're still technically following people, and they're following you. Not OK.
Step 1: Purge your profile
One way to find your profile is to go to http://www.google.com/profiles and search on your name. Next, permanently delete buzzes in the public timeline by clicking the "Delete" tag. Then get to work unfollowing those that Google has "helped" you automatically follow.
However, it's as if the Buzz team never envisioned anyone would want to completely opt out. You'll need to unfollow individuals one by one, which takes some time if Google subscribed you to a long list of followers. Despite what it said in our profile, we had to keep loading pages to unfollow a big chunk of friends.
Also take a moment to make sure that your profile isn't broadcasting anything you don't want it to. Click the "Edit Profile" link to the right of "Contacts" and "About me" to give your profile a once-over.
Note: If your profile was never public (and if you never experimented with Buzz), you'll have fewer privacy concerns. However, if you are getting rid of Buzz, it's a good idea to scan your profile to make sure you're not exposed on anyone's automatic list of followers.
Step 2: Block your followers
If you're serious about removing traces of yourself from Buzz's public record, you'll need to make sure you're invisible to others as well. Go back to Buzz in Gmail (if you already disabled it, you can turn Buzz back on at the bottom of the page to complete this step.) In the absence of an obvious "block all" button, we manually blocked each individual by clicking their picture from the list of followers and then selecting "Block."
At noon PT on Thursday, we noticed that Google rolled out a better interface that includes some management tools you can use to more easily block users. Prior to that, we noticed a few leftovers that were still visible in our public profile because we weren't previously able to access their profile tab. Thanks to Google's tweak, we unblocked them in a hurry.
Blocking someone won't alert them and you can always unblock them later if you change your mind about Buzz.
Step 3: Disable Buzz in Gmail
Now it's safe to disable Buzz in Gmail, thus removing the offending links and updates from your eyes.
This worked for us, but leave your own tips and travails in the comments.