What’s all the buzz about?

If you’ve been hiding under a rock all week, or been internet-less at home (like I have) you may not have heard about Google Buzz.

To learn more, you may wish to read Google’s official introduction of their latest service/product. If not, we’ll give you an executive summary.

Basic Features

Google Buzz is a feature built into Gmail that provides a social networking service that is a Facebook/Twitter hybrid.

Buzz leverages existing Google services (Picasa, Blogger, Reader, Google Chat) as well as other 3rd party services (Flickr, Twitter) to try and pull all your internet activity into a single information stream for you to share.

The basic Buzz view is very much like Twitter (actually more like Jaiku – a Twitter clone), allowing the user to post status messages which others can comment on. However by pulling in images from Flickr, posts from Blogger, etc the visual experience of your followers becomes much more like Facebook.

[Main Buzz View]Main Buzz View

Above we see the basic Buzz view showing some of the status updates of people I am following.

[Buzz with Comments view]Buzz with Comments view

Unlike Twitter, and more like Facebook, each status message can be commented on to create a conversation (shown above) which is visually rather similar to Google Wave.

[Buzz Follow List]Buzz Follow List

You can easily list those you are following, as well as search for other users to follow. Google automatically suggests other gmail users in your address book as possible users to follow.

[Buzz Profile View]Buzz Profile View

When activating Buzz you are required to put some information into a public profile. Above we see a smple Google Buzz profile page contents.


Other Features

  • Hyperlink directly to individual Buzz messages
  • Can send a Buzz to another user via email
  • Create private Buzzes which are visible only to a selected group of users
  • Can flag a Buzz as something you ‘like’
  • When Buzzing from mobile applications the Buzz can be tagged with your location
  • Receive email updates when a new comment to your Buzz is posted
  • Mute a Buzz to stop receiving email notification about updates to the comments


Our Opinions


Stephen

It’s fairly clear that Google are trying to take the best features of Twitter and Facebook to create a product that will compete with both.


Competition

After the mixed response (so far) to Google Wave it is a very smart move to tie Buzz into an existing and highly popular service (Gmail). As a non-revolutionary communication tool (as Google would like you to think Wave is) it seems like a natural fit to embed Buzz as an extension to Gmail, in very much the same way as Google Talk was. The immediate benefit of this is to leverage an existing user base (Gmail users) rather than having to rely on hype and publicity to grow a stand-alone social networking tool – just take a look at the failure (unless you’re in Brazil or India) of Orkut.

It’s difficult to predict how well Buzz will compete with Twitter or Facebook, but it is interesting to note that you can have Buzz automatically pull your public Twitter status updates into it but that there is no tie-in with Facebook. Does that signify that Buzz is more aimed at replacing Facebook, or a subtle attempt to appeal to existing Twitter users and eventually wean them from status updates in Buzz via Twitter to more direct use of Buzz as a replacement for Twitter?

As a replacement for Facebook the one thing Buzz is lacking is the many 3rd party applications which appeal to so many (not me!). However 3rd party gadgets is a feature present in iGoogle. There is not yet a Buzz gadget for iGoogle, however when (if?) there is it might be a significant step towards taking on Facebook.


Co-existance

Google’s OpenSocial API is very significant factor to both Buzz and Google’s intentions. By providing free and open social networking APIs Google are making it possible for communication between any social networking service that wants to use them. This allows for Buzz to pull in Twitter streams, but at the same time, in principle, allows for the reverse. Buzz does not have to compete with and ‘kill’ alternative social networking applications to be successful. In fact the Google approach seems to be to ensure that they are an integral part of the genre, rather than kill off and replace competitors. The idea solution to Google (in my opinion) is for a social networking landscape that is open, searchable, and interoperable (let’s not forget that Google make their money by search).


Will I use it?

As a regular Twitter user, and an irregular Facebook user I am looking at Buzz with interest. I do have a Gmail account, but I do not use the web-interface to it on a regular basis (I use desktop email clients to access my Gmail), and this is to me the first limiting factor with Buzz. If I was always on my Gmail (via the web) then I would suddenly and automatically be always on my Buzz. But I am not, and I find it difficult to add a new routine to my already busy days. If something like TweetDeck (3rd party application with support for posting Twitter and Facebook status updates simultaneously) gains Buzz support, then I would immediately be able to embrace Buzz without adding any significant overhead to my daily activities.

Summary: Yes, but not all that much right now.


What does Buzz need to make me use it?

I find my views to be rather contradictory. I think Buzz is going to be a success due to how closely it is tied in to Gmail. At the same time I do not think I will use Buzz very often specifically because it is tied into Gmail. In the same way that I tweet via 3rd party apps, the success of Buzz, for me, lies in it being embraced by the same 3rd party apps that now support Twitter. Fortunately, as Buzz is built on Google’s own OpenSocial APIs, this is entirely possible, and in my opinion probable.

Next Big Thing?

No. I’m waiting for OneSocialWeb.


Mick


Will Google Buzz be successful?

Probably.  For your average internet user it will just become part of their routine to check Buzz at the same time as  they check their email inbox, especially if they suffer from the same compulsion as I do to get rid of the unread count as quickly as possible.  It will be come part of a person’s daily e-routine: Check email, check Buzz, check Facebook.


Will Google Buzz overtake Twitter and Facebook?

No.  It’s a different tool.  Just like Twitter is a different social tool to Facebook, Google Buzz is different to Twitter and Facebook.  Admittedly Buzz is closer to Twitter than Facebook, but I still don’t see it taking over the social networking world.  It may become as popular as other social media tools, but it’s unlikely to replace them.

My reasoning? Lets compare Buzz with Twitter for example.  Twitter posts (tweets) are restricted to 140 characters which keeps things nice and concise.  I use Twitter to keep up with Learning  Technologists and technology blogs from around the world.  I can easily scan down a list of the last few hours activity quickly and easily, taking in what I’m interested in and glancing over what I’m not.  With Buzz, that’s not so easy.  The lack of character limit means that posts can be quite long and to be honest, once it gets longer than 140 characters, I probably won’t bother reading it at all.  Couple that with the long list of comments per Buzz you get on people’s profiles like Mashable and Stephen Fry‘s and the ability to scan through your follow list in 30 seconds to get  a quick update on what people are posting is lost.


Will I use Google Buzz?

Yes.  Partly because I feel like I should keep up with Buzz as it develops and partly because some of my friends will use it who currently do not use Twitter.  However, I won’t use it as often or as extensively as I use Facebook or Twitter, but I will have a look at least once a day.  This is largely due to my GMail account not being my primary personal email account which means that I do not check it as often.  If Google Apps roll out Buzz on my domain then I might start using it more, but only if I can tie in my existing web profile.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of Buzz and I particularly like the ability to comment on people’s posts.  For me, however, it’s arrived on the scene a bit too late for me to make it my primary social media outlet.  I’m already heavily invested in both Twitter and Facebook and don’t really have the time to become as invested in Google Buzz.

“But you can link your Twitter account to Buzz” I hear you cry.  I can, but I don’t want to.  Most of the people who follow me on Buzz follow me on Twitter and for my Buzz profile to be in anyway effective or useful to me and others I need to avoid duplicating my posts as much as possible.  The upshot of this, of course, is that some of my followers on Twitter will miss out on things I Buzz, and vice versa, but that’s no different to the distinction I have between my Twitter posts and my Facebook posts.


Final thoughts

Is Buzz a halfway-house to Wave?  The interface is quite similar which leads me to wonder whether Google are playing a little mind game with us to encourage us to give Wave another go. Or will Buzz ultimately become an integrated part of Wave as well?  I’m not sure, but I know that if Buzz has been part of Wave from the outset, I might have found Wave a lot more useful.