I just watched the live presentation announcing the official launch of Google Buzz, a new and innovative play on the social networking space from Google. My takeaway is a resounding Wow! As we are painfully aware, the onslaught of messages, photos, videos, comments – what Google likes to call “buzz” – has been overwhelming in recent years. Facebook updates, Twitter updates, Flickr photos, video streams, and more are coming to us at a rate that is impossible for a single person to manage. The result is that we see too much junk and not enough of the stuff that we really want to see and share. Enter Google Buzz, a fresh and inspiring new play on the entire social stream that puts Facebook, Twitter, and other major social players on the defense. I am NOT going to be so bold or naive as to call Google Buzz a Twitter or Facebook killer. It is not like that at all. Rather, Buzz is an open, completely new approach to the social stream that will force the Facebooks and Twitters of the world to rethink their strategies. Google Buzz represents a big shift, a big wave moving through the social world. It is going to be very interesting to see how this plays out.
So how can I describe Google Buzz? In a nutshell, Google Buzz is a way for a person to aggregate all of their pieces of social information (twitter updates, picasa and flickr photos, youtube videos, etc) into one place and then easily connect this stream with friends, family, colleagues, and whomever else we are connected with. This stream of information – what Google calls Buzz – is centralized in several innovative ways. First, it is centralized on a personalized Google profile page for each Google user. Next, the data is centralized in your Gmail inbox, turning your email inbox into an all purpose information inbox. Finally, applications are available on Android and the iphone that have been custom built to allow you to consume your social stream, but with the added capabilities of Google Buzz.
Google Buzz creates a personal homepage, or profile page for your social stream that can potentially serve as a one stop shop to promote and share your “social self” to the world. The profile page is indexed by Google’s search engine in realtime, and will incorporate features such as a follower count so that you and everyone else can “measure” your social prowess on the net. Your profile page could ultimately incorporate some sort of social “score” that rates your social status based not only on how many people follow your Google profile, but also how many people follow your Twitter feed, how often people comment or “like” your items, and so on.
Gmail Inbox Is No Longer An Email Inbox, It Is An “Information” Inbox
A key to the Google Buzz invasion is the immediate and easy ways in which Google is enabling people to access, share, and increase the value of their Buzz. Most notably, buzz is built directly into Gmail and shows up directly in your inbox just like a regular email. In essence, your gmail inbox is being converted into not just an email inbox, but an all purpose information inbox for all your videos, photos, comments, tweets, and yes, email. Buzz that shows up in your inbox has a special icon next to it to differentiate it from emails. Buzz within Gmail is updated in realtime. While you are looking at a photo from your friend, for example, if someone in your social graph adds a comment to that photo the comment will show up in realtime as it occurs. In addition to seeing Buzz from people you are connected to, Google Buzz will attempt to suggest other Buzz to you from people that you are not connected to. This will allow you to find new people to connect with that may have interesting information to share with you. This feature could get annoying of course, and Google has thought of this. There is a feedback mechanism why which you can tell Buzz whether a recommendation was good or not, and in theory Buzz will learn from this feedback.
Android, Iphone Apps
Gmail integration is an amazing thrust for Google Buzz, but Google then takes things further by offering Android and Apple iphone apps specially designed for Google Buzz. These apps could potentially supplant Twitter and Facebook as THE must have app for accessing, sharing, and interacting with the social stream. Google Buzz aggregates all of your social stream into one place, and then it does them one up by adding extra functionality that is unique and innovative. Most notably, Google Buzz uses Google’s many years of expertise with location based information (Google Maps, Google Latitude, Google Earth) to associate bits of social information, or Buzz, with location. And when I say location, I don’t just mean GPS coordinates. In the Google Buzz presentation it was very impressive to see tweets, photos, and other bits of information associated with a specific place beyond just GPS, such as a Starbucks, school, office building, bus stop, etc. Those familiar with Foursquare, Gowalla, and other rising “checkin” services will immediately see the great value in information related to a place instead of simply relating it to GPS coordinates alone. Just as with Facebook and Twitter, Google Buzz therefore puts the Foursquares and the Gowallas on the defense. How do their business models adapt themselves to a world filled with Google Buzz?
Here is a promo video for Google Buzz:
5 Core Elements
Google made clear that Google Buzz is aimed at putting 5 core elements into the overwhelming mess of social streams that we are encountering everyday:
- auto following – not only can you choose who you follow or connect with, but using the social graph already waiting within your gmail address book, Google buzz will automatically kickstart your social graph right from the start. Over time as you naturally interact with new people, Google Buzz can automatically bring these new people into your social stream without you having to manually do so
- rich, fast sharing experience – Google buzz is designed from the ground up to be super fast and to work well with the major pieces of social information – images, videos, comments, “likes”, tweets, and more. There is no need to leave gmail to see videos in one place or images in some other place. Your entire social stream of information will look beautiful and be easy to use right within gmail
- public and private sharing easily – traditional social networks have been poor at offering fine grained ability to choose who can see and share the information in your social stream. Google Buzz makes it easy to create groups such as “family” and “sports friends” so that you can direct different parts of your social stream to the groups that you want to direct them to
- inbox integration – Google Buzz converts your email inbox into an all purpose information inbox. Now all of your email, videos, photos, tweets, and other pieces of information can be accessed and organized in one place
- just the good stuff – Google Buzz attempt to take on the challenge of automating the enormous task of filtering through the buzz of you and your thousands of “friends” to put the “good stuff” in your inbox and everything else hidden away until/if you want to find it. Google claims that this is their core strength of as a company – taking large complex sets of data and picking out the good stuff. I think they may have a point!
What About Spam And All The Junk In My Social Stream?
An immediate question that people have been asking about Google Buzz already is how will it deal with spam? I am not saying that Google has this all figured out just yet….but spam from our social streams is exactly what Google Buzz was designed to address. Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and other major social stream paradigms have almost no anti-spam capbility whatsoever. Take Facebook for example. If I have 500 friends in Facebook, I am inundated with 500 friends worth of information streaming into my news stream, a huge amount of it being junk. Facebook does almost nothing to address this issue. Google Buzz won’t be perfect, but at least it is built from the ground up to attempt to address the issue. It uses Google’s decade plus expertise in picking the best stuff out of large pools of data to move the best data from your social stream straight to you and the rest out of your way.
Google Buzz Is A BIG Deal
I can’t predict the future. I can’t say that Google Buzz will be a success. But what I can do is say that Google Buzz has shaken things up big time! Everyone will be forced to assess their strategies in relation to this new product. This is a game changer.
Most major services, including youtube, picasa, flickr, twitter, and more will be available in google buzz almost immediately. Facebook is now in a major hot seat, as they seem to be the major service that is noticeably absent from Google Buzz. Facebook will have to think long and hard about how and if they will allow the precious “buzz” that has thus far been closed within its walls to be incorporated into Google’s new social paradigm. Its going to be very interesting indeed!