What's The Buzz About Google Buzz?

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Earlier today, Google rolled out a new feature, Google Buzz; and the aptly named tool, is already creating quite a stir on the World Wide Web.  According to his post on the Gmail blog, Edward Ho, tech lead for Google Buzz, says the feature is "a new way to start conversations about the things you find interesting and share updates, photos, videos and more."  But according to Yahoo! and Microsoft, Google isn't doing anything they haven't been doing for years.  Given my background in journalism--and my overall desire to be "in the know,"--I've been reading up on Google Buzz and how it compares with other social media sites and features already on the web and here's what I found out:

What is Google Buzz?
Google Buzz is a social sharing feature that syncs up with Gmail to aggregate status updates, links, comments, photos and other content from the people you email with.  (Apparently, Buzz connects with Picasa, Flickr, Google Reader and Twitter.)  In addition, Google uses one of its mysterious algorithms to weed through some of the useless information that people tend to share via social networks so that you only see information that's relevant and informative.  In other words, status updates like "BRB" and "I heart kitties" won't show up in Google Buzz.

When someone responds to a post that you make, Buzz sends the response directly to your email inbox and allows you to reply from there as well.  Unlike email messages, Buzz comments appear in real time.  

Possibly the biggest asset to Google Buzz is its integration with mobile technology.  At today's press conference, the folks at Google said that people with an Android phone or iPhone will be able to use Buzz right away (sucks for me and my Blackberry). The reason behind the mobile push is Foursquare in nature.  Google not only wants people to update their statuses on the go, but they also want them to tag their statuses by location (think "I'm at Olive Garden in Santa Clara" not the specific coordinates offered by Google Latitude). Additionally, select mobile users can utilize Google Maps and Search apps as well as Google Voice to speak their status updates (just be sure to say "post buzz" when you're posting your status update).

Who are Google Buzz's Competitors?  
I'm not sure if you noticed which social media giant wasn't included in the list (above) of social services that Buzz integrates with, but Facebook is not on there. I realize that companies like Microsoft and Yahoo! are in a panic about Buzz, but in MY opinion, Google didn't create this feature to compete with either of them (they're already doing that successfully)--they did it to compete with Facebook.  

However, to be fair, I took a look at Yahoo! Updates and Microsoft's Hotmail features just to see how Google Buzz matches up.  Both Yahoo! and Microsoft do seem to offer virtually the same features as Google Buzz, just subtract the mobile integration and add integration with Facebook.  That being said, the number of Yahoo! and Hotmail users is declining while the number of Gmail users is at an all-time high of 176 million unique visitors per month, according to comScore.

Pros and Cons of Google Buzz

Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to use the service myself.  Google will be rolling Buzz out to Gmail users over the next few weeks, and I wasn't in the first wave of the roll out.  All of you will be receiving it too (unlike Google Wave, where you have to request it).  Keep looking for the "Buzz" link right below your Gmail "Inbox" link.  I have, however, talked with some people, including Experts-Exchange's own Teksquisite, who have already received and played with the service and their first impression was one of slight confusion.  Which leads me to the "cons" of Google Buzz:

Complexity- Apparently you can make public and private updates and select to receive updates by some of your Gmail contacts and not others.  I fear that if the service is too difficult to understand, people simply won't use it--no matter how much easier it might be to receive all this information AND your email in one place.  

Automatic "friend" selection- While Google says you can select not to share content with certain people, Buzz automatically links (no pun intended) you up with people you email with.  This list could include your boss, or your mom, or your boss's mom--and what if you don't want to tell them you'll be at the local pub slamming back a few tomorrow night?

One way communication- While the folks at Google did indicate that Buzz will eventually allow you to update your Twitter status and information on other social services directly from Buzz, it does not do allow you to do that right now.  So, while you'll be able to see other people's Twitter status and even comment on them within Buzz, you won't be able to Tweet or Retweet them or update your own Twitter status.  That means you'll still need to log in to Twitter and Facebook and Buzz and any other social network you might participate on just to update your status directly on that site. If you think that managing multiple social services is annoying now, try adding one more.

As for the "pros" of Google Buzz, it's obvious: If enough of your friends start using the service, Google Buzz/Gmail could become your one-stop-shop for all things social.  After all, 176 million unique visitors per month, means 176 million monthly chances that people will start using the service.  

Personally, I'm saying "Good luck Google" and waiting till I get to check the service out for myself before I make my final decision.  

TechCrunch.com; Readwriteweb.com and Official Gmail Blog
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