Social Networking

Google Buzz Bridges Social Media and Gmail

Google has certainly generated more than its share of buzz regarding its plans to get deeper into social media. On Tuesday, the search giant revealed those plans: Google Buzz, which takes a big step into Facebook and Twitter territory while keeping one foot firmly planted on its Gmail foundation.

While the initial version of Buzz released during a press conference and demonstration at the company’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters focused on consumer-friendly uses — status updates, comments, link and media-sharing, either at a desktop or via smartphone — Google made it clear that there will also be a future place for Buzz in its enterprise goals.

“I think a lot of past services have focused on just friends and entertainment,” Google cofounder Sergey Brin told the audience. “I found personally a huge amount of productivity in using Google Buzz internally, and therefore I think the bridging of those worlds is very powerful.”

Corporate-centric versions of Buzz would be coming soon, added Google Vice President for Product Management Bradley Horowitz. “We’ve been testing Buzz in the context of our enterprise products,” Horowitz said. “We found it invaluable, and it changed the way we communicate.”

Consumers who are on Gmail will get the first shot at the new features over the next few days.

Consumer Buzz Comes First

Even though Google product manager Todd Jackson said Buzz went “beyond status updates,” there was a definite Facebook feel to the services demonstrated Tuesday. Buzz rolls in real-time communications and sharing into the Gmail format and focuses on five aspects Google has determined to be important to users: auto-following with existing users and contacts, which doesn’t require any set-up; rich, fast sharing experiences for links and multimedia; more choice in public and private sharing; Inbox integration for these new services so users won’t have to leave the comfortable confines of Gmail to enjoy social media; and “just the good stuff,” as product manager Todd Jackson called it — a reliance on user recommendations for links and media, even if you’re not following the person sharing that content.

“Over the years, we’ve added more and more tools for all the ways users want to communicate inside Gmail,” Jackson said. “This is a new way to share and communicate inside Gmail and to start conversations about the things you find interesting. Buzz is like an entire new world.”

Part of that new landscape is clear when you look on the left-hand side of a user’s Gmail page: “Buzz” now becomes a link on the list of folders, right under “Inbox” and above “Deleted Items” and “Sent Items.” When you publish a link to friends, headlines and images from that link appear in a Buzz box — just like they do in a Facebook update.

Google does work up several ways to share and receive updates, including the “@Reply” feature, and incoming comments can be viewed in the Inbox. Buzz also connects to other social media sites like Twitter, Google subsidiary YouTube, Picasa and Flickr.

Google is also rolling out changes to its mobile strategy to incorporate Buzz features for the smartphone-using consumers who can take advantage of their device’s location-based and GPS features. A new “Buzz” icon will appear in the upper right-hand corner of the mobile Google homepage. Also, the company announced apps available at for iPhones and Android devices, which will allow users to see what the “buzz” is wherever they are; that is, geotagged real-time comments that appear as conversations on a Google mobile map.

Can Buzz Deface Facebook?

Despite the widespread appeal of Gmail and its installed base of users, IDC social media analyst Karsten Wiede said Google has its work cut out for it if it wants to appeal to those who are already using Twitter and Facebook. “If it works, it could increase the users for Gmail, which is a good thing,” Wiede told TechNewsWorld. “It will also increase traffic in terms of page views, all of which are good for its advertising business directly. It would also strengthen the entire portfolio of Google services because it would tie people closer to them. But I don’t think it will work. The people who would be interested in this kind of functionality is the Facebook crowd. Why would I use this if I’m already on Facebook? Why use two services?” he said.

“People are already doing status updates on dedicated services (like Twitter and Facebook) which have richer interfaces,” said Digital Trends publisher Scott Steinberg. “They already have a community of followers on Twitter. Now you’re starting another option, which serves to muddy the waters further. Simply adding status updates by itself isn’t a game-changer. Google is basically attempting to play catch-up a little bit and add a more robust feature set to what is a pretty workmanlike service. Most people don’t think of Gmail as a social media service,” Steinberg told TechNewsWorld.

If the ability to send photos and videos from within Gmail does prove to be compelling, however, “then suddenly we’ve got something interesting here because they’ve got a huge user base (with Gmail), and they can empower them with new features,” Steinberg added. “But that feature set has to be competitive,” he said.

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