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Google Gets a Little More Social with Buzz

By tying a new social networking tool to Gmail, Google hopes to speed up adoption.
February 9, 2010

Google has revealed its latest foray into the social space: a tool called Google Buzz that integrates with Gmail.

The basic idea is similar to the feed on a Facebook user’s home page: Buzz allows a user to see a stream of comments, links, photos, and videos that have been shared with friends. But while the interface looks familiar, Google could have a real advantage in tying Buzz to other successful products to beef up its functionality and adoption. The company also seems to have been working hard to identify and solve several problems inherent to existing social networks.

Gmail users will be automatically subscribed to 40 people based on their e-mail and chat behavior. The Buzz page (already available to some users) will show items shared by these people, and it will also recommend items that a user might be interested in, even if those items were posted in their extended network. As with Twitter, a Buzz user can direct an item to a specific person by using an @reply. This sends the item to the friend’s inbox, where it functions as a “live object,” updating in real-time as others comment on it.

Whenever social sites like Twitter are discussed, the issue of signal-to-noise typically comes up, and Google seems to have a plan for that too: using location information to help decide which posts are most relevant to a user.

Buzz will also help users control who sees the items they share. Todd Jackson, product manager for Google Buzz, notes that “many users use one product to share things publicly and a separate product to share things privately.” Buzz, on the other hand, has been built with a user interface that makes it easier to flip back and forth between public and private, in the hope that users will use it to perform both functions.

Google has also announced three efforts to promote Buzz on mobile phones. First: a mobile app for both the iPhone and Android; second: links to Buzz on Google’s mobile home page; and third: integration of Buzz with Google Mobile Maps so that users can see items posted near a location. For the mobile versions of Buzz, users can also choose whether to have Google rank posts based on social considerations or proximity. Selecting the “nearby” option within Buzz shows items posted near the user’s current location, regardless of whether they were posted by a friend.

Google says that Buzz will reach most Gmail users within the next few days; the mobile application is available at buzz.google.com.

During a press conference held in Mountain View, executives said there were many great opportunities to integrate Buzz with Google Wave. But to my eye Buzz takes many of the attractive features of Wave offered and pulls them into products that people actually use. This seems like a better way of executing these ideas.

The announcement also demonstrates the keenness of Google’s recent push into real-time search. Google executives have said in the past that it’s hard to determine the best ways to rank tweets. But having better access to information on user’s social behavior will help the company rank trending items on its search page (which is, after all, still its main product).

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