Google upped its social networking ante on Tuesday, with the launch of a new service. Google Buzz is a microblogging engine, related to Facebook status update and Twitter. But the differences are important, and possibly of moment to academia.
Buzz lets Google users compose short messages, a la Twitter or instant messages’ “away” status. Buzz users can follow other users, creating a personal content stream. One may direct a single post towards another user with the “@” tag, also a la Twitter. Users can add content from some other services to Buzz, such as YouTube, Flickr, Google Reader, or(Google-owned) Picasa; this is reminiscent of Facebook’s multimedia support, and the variety of services Twitter users can exploit (TwitPic, for instance). Users can also select the audience for an individual Buzz, from the world at large to various defined private groups.
However, Google integrates Buzz into Google accounts and other Google services, which leads to key differences:
- One’s Buzz account comes preloaded with Gmail contacts, based on a user’s email addressbook and some data about personal connection based on frequency of GChat and/or Gmail use.
- Buzz actively recommends other users’ Buzz content. We should recognize such a recommendation engine from other Web services (i.e., Amazon). It is so far lacking from other microblogging services.
- Buzz-es appear in Gmail, and can be replied to therein. This email integration might prove popular with audiences deeply invested in email.
- Buzz applications for Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone: mobile device platforms are already in play. Google Maps should play a role here.
- Buzz feeds can be syndicated through RSS and other services, unlike competitors.
Google Buzz represents a strongly competitive move. It targets Twitter: one may connect the two, or choose not to. This could either draw users away from Twitter, or create a Google-based presence within the Twitterverse. Buzz also competes with Facebook, a company noticeably absent from Google’s announcement content. Microsoft may be another target, either because of its Hotmail email service, or for collaboration tool Sharepoint. Microsoft’s Social Connector service is in the line of fire, too, especially with its impending Outlook integration. Mobile services which combine digital information with physical location, such as Yelp or Foursquare, could well be targets. One last competitor: Yahoo, who launched an Updates feature in 2009 (and who has an unrelated site called Buzz).
Critics have addressed several points. First, Google has a poor track record in the social networking space, with many initiatives either failing or simply not taking off (at least in the USA; Orkut has a global following). Second, Buzz seems to be something other than an open social network, suggesting another silo or walled garden approach.
Questions are many. Can Google Buzz users B/buzz people through other online identities, such as different email providers? Will Buzz results appear in the general Google Web search?
Your turn. What’s your experience with Buzz? And what are your thoughts?