What is Google Buzz and How Does it Work?
Google Buzz is a new social network integrated into Gmail. You must have a Google account to use it. It starts with automatically following those you email/chat with most through your Google account. It also recommends other Google contacts, as well as some Twitter contacts – I suppose those who already have Gmail accounts. Though it seemed somewhat random. I follow over 1,000 people on Twitter, yet only 20 or so have Gmail accounts? Seems odd.
I think Google’s main goal is to get more people to sign up for Google accounts – those who are put off by Twitter – and use more Google applications to share with (Gmail, Picasa, Google Reader). It also appears that they want to make social networking simpler and help you share more with the people you already know and trust in your life.
How Does it Differ from Twitter and Facebook?
So far, Buzz looks to me like a cross-section between Twitter and Facebook, though a somewhat “lighter” version of each.
Buzz is “Facebook Light” in that it pares it down to text/photo/link updates. There are no applications to interact with (yet). You can add links to your other social networks to your Google profile page, and apparently you can also feed Flickr and Twitter into your Buzz feed – though I have not figured out how yet (if you know, please comment!). There are no events, fan pages, or groups to follow. Everyone on Buzz is equal – people and brands alike. And according to TechCrunch, brands are already hopping on. I’m very interested to see how that takes off — will users invite companies and brands into their personal inbox like they do with marketing newsletters?
Additionally, the network is limited to those you know with Google accounts – mostly those who are your “real” friends in your address book, not all the people who you once knew at some point in your life (colleagues, elementary/high school/college friends, extended family) but never would email with, and who rarely comment on your Facebook posts anyway. Yet because everybody who joins Facebook has to “connect” with everyone they’ve ever known, you feel compelled to be “friends”.
Buzz is “Twitter Light” in the same way that it’s a limited network. I don’t yet see people inviting brands, fringe friends and complete strangers into their Buzz feeds where it connects with your personal Gmail account, even if your email address is not displayed. Twitter profiles are public and can be anonymous – you can use usernames and never reveal your real name. So if you want to follow a brand or celebrity you can be totally anonymous and the interaction level is up to you. But because Buzz integrates with your Google profile, it reveals your full name. Is this too personal? It still allows anyone to “message” you to your Gmail account, and when someone replies or mentions you in a post, it goes to your Gmail inbox. Kind of creepy for people you haven’t actually met or interacted with extensively on Twitter. Therefore, I don’t see Buzz as a “Twitter-killer.” Although it will appeal to Gmail users who don’t get Twitter or are overwhelmed by its constant chatter, short messages and cryptic code, ultimately Buzz does not allow for finding new people, connecting with them over common interests and sharing information. That is the lifeblood of Twitter – making new connections and interacting in communities.
Speaking of communities, there is no visible way to get involved in communities in Google Buzz when there is no tagging feature. You can tag posts, but they do not link to a search result of that tag. Therefore, it is currently impossible to easily follow conversations on topics unless you see a hashtag and search for it within Buzz. With Google’s powerful search engine, how can they not make it as easy as possible to link to and display search results of tagged topics?
However, since it’s “Twitter Light” and really only integrates your existing friends or close connections, are external communities what Google wishes to foster? Do we need hashtags and topics in Buzz? Perhaps not.
I am shocked, though, that there is no easy way to share others’ posts. In order to share, you must choose “Link to this post”, which opens a new window of the original post. I then assumed I had to copy and paste the URL into my Google Buzz feed. Copy and paste? Really, Google? I know that Twitter users were the ones who established RT @username, with cut and paste, but soon third-party apps made it native features, and Twitter tried to squash it with their native Retweet feature to standardize how people share information. It hasn’t really worked, but at least there is a well-known way of sharing that has become a best practice: RT @username: original message. What’s the best practice for sharing on Buzz? Will it grow out of the user behavior (do we say “rebuzz”? RB?) or will Google implement something easier?
So my question then is: without ease of sharing, is this a “social” network? We’ve become so used to being able to share on Facebook and retweet on Twitter, it makes me wonder how much Buzz will take off if you can’t easily share interesting info that comes in from others.
One day I would like to see a social network allow users to create groups of people in your network and target information to them. Some of my friends are interested in sports, some social media, some games, some animal rights, some LGBT issues… you get the idea. Not all of our friends are interested in the same info. This is why I lose followers when I live-tweet sporting events. Google needs to find a value of Buzz that differentiates it significantly from Facebook and Twitter – this would be it.
Is it Too Simple?
Sometimes, Twitter and Facebook can be digital diarrhea. There’s just way more info than I can possibly consume, even if I have a desire to keep up with certain trends, conversations, games, and brands. Buzz simplifies all this into content from friends and trusted associates, at least in its current state. But is it enough to draw me away from Facebook, where it’s much easier to share information with my network? I already know it won’t draw me away from Twitter – that’s where I interact with different communities of people and brands who I wouldn’t otherwise know and have made valuable personal and professional connections. So what’s the value? Why should I buzz?