First impressions of Google Buzz: Smart, useful, long road ahead

First impressions of Google Buzz: Smart, useful, long road ahead

Summary: Earlier this afternoon Google Buzz went live after a comprehensive launch event streamed live over YouTube. Buzz is a brand-new social tool that helps users to share updates, links, photos, videos, and more with the online world at large. Aimed at consumers and eventually enterprises, Buzz is Google's most serious Social Web play yet. Find out why with my detailed breakdown and analysis.

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The real question is whether Buzz has arrived in enough time to make a big enough difference for Google in the social computing race. Earlier this afternoon Google Buzz went live after a comprehensive launch event streamed live over YouTube. Buzz is a brand-new social tool that helps users to share updates, links, photos, videos, and more with the online world at large.

Google founder Sergey Brin has been quoted as saying that Buzz gives us the ability to post a message to the Web without a 'to' line. The service is location-aware and works on the Web via Gmail or using a mobile interface on the iPhone or Android.

Given the huge amount of coverage already of this announcement, I'm not going to review the features of Google Buzz in detail, you can find that from the live coverage captured by ZDNet's Sam Diaz or the just-posted screenshot gallery. Below are my first impressions of Google Buzz from a strategic point of view, which I was able to use for a short while before writing this post.

An analysis of Google Buzz

One of the few places that Google doesn't dominate the Web today is in the social arena. It's a world where Facebook has a large lead and where Google isn't even #2 or #3. Consequently any entries that Google makes in this space are going to be very closely watched indeed. This happened with Google Wave last year and there's likely to be a virtual mountain of analysis and dissection before it's all done with this service.

Google Buzz: Their Social Web and Enterprise 2.0 Play

My take: Google Buzz is well-designed and useful but it's going to be seriously challenged because the very people most likely to be interested in Buzz will already have places to carry out their online social activities. This means Google Buzz may end up being more useful in places where there's a lot less dominance by the consumer Social Web, such as in the enterprise.

In no particular order, here's why Google Buzz is significant nonetheless, for as much for how it tells us how Google looks at the world of social computing as for the way these capabilities will almost certainly migrate and blur into a common social feature set in other Google products such as iGoogle, YouTube, and Picasa.

  • Buzz is an intelligent personal activity stream that's designed to scale. Buzz is not just a FriendFeed-like aggregator of everyone you know; it uses analysis to try to sort out what makes the most sense to you at the moment. A few minutes using Buzz convinced me that this is going to be essential if the service isn't going to be overwhelming. It's already fairly addictive with just a few followers, I can only imagine when you have hundreds. A few commentators, such as Jeff Jarvis, have already (rightly) pegged this a major attempt to address what Clay Shirky calls filter failure to cope with the information explosion challenge of social media and Enterprise 2.0. As Google pointed out in their introduction, dealing with this problem effectively in scale has significant business benefits. In particular, it'll be very good for Google's advertising model while making social computing potentially much for compelling and efficient for an important audience that's very valuable indeed: large enterprises.
  • Google believes that good data and computational analysis are the key to success with hyperlocal and hyperpersonal. And in this, they are probably not wrong. Geolocation abilities are built directly into Buzz as a primary dimension of its social experience (which was even described as 'beautiful', an adjective used more often by Apple for its products than by Google). As for hyperpersonal, in Buzz this is driven by underlying algorithms that filter and guide the user experience. Google's VP of Engineering, Vic Gundotra, noted that Google's insight into the early Web with the famous Page Rank algorithm drove their initial success. He went on to hint that they believe the same algorithmic insight into the Social Web will succeed with Buzz. Either way, Google has clearly used its competency in data and computation to attempt to one-up today's online social networking services. The stakes for this bet are high: The success (or any lack thereof) of the end result will in no small part be due to the real-world effectiveness of these features.

    I do think they're generally on the right track here but the left brain approach to the Web that dominates Google's product strategy tends to obscure the notion that social systems are also highly self-organizing and emergent. Capitalizing on this and encouraging bottom-up network effects has been the key to incredible success for those that have figured out how (i.e. Facebook and Twitter). Thus Buzz at times makes you feel like a rat in someone else's maze. Time will tell if this ultimately produces better outcomes or not.
  • Buzz exhibits a deep understanding of the importance of Social Web open standards. Vic Gundotra's recitation of the underlying standards that they focused on for the product, including OAuth, PubSubHubBub, Salmon, WebFinger, Activity Streams, and many others I covered here recently was much more than a demonstration of technical know-how. Open standards have driven the enormous success of the Web much more than any other platform. Backing the right horse when it comes to the standards of the Social Web, especially when you're not the dominant player, has made or broken more than a few large companies it comes to ultimate success in the computing industry. Google seems to clearly understand that this applies to the Social Web too (and assuming that many of their competitors don't, though certainly most do) speaks volumes, just as it proactively puts any competition that doesn't comply at a growing disadvantage, at least if Google predicts correctly. Buzz shows that Google is becoming increasingly shrewd at playing the open standards game and that it's just as important -- although also no substitute -- for having the best features.
  • The real-time searchable Web goes hand-in-hand with the social Web. Social interaction is a very temporal process and often works best in fast feedback loops and short time scales. Google Buzz isn't about simple chat or two-way communication, it's about you talking with the entire Web (or intranet.) Making this vision scale globally while instrumented with sophisticated algorithms is a core competency that Google brings to the table like few others. Google's increasing move into real-time feedback and live social search gives them access to a new kind of social: one in which social activity finds you before you even go and look for it. Google can take their competency at finding what matters and get it to you in real-time. Far from indexing the social Web, Google is putting itself in the position where it begins to actively route the social Web. The implications here are far reaching and has the potential to bring the world of social computing into an entirely new domain. It's one in which the very communication landscape is made more effectively (and ultimately workable) by social routers such as Buzz.
  • With Buzz, Google has let on that it has fully realized the central importance of the Social Web to consumers and (increasingly) businesses. Readers here know that I've made the argument that social computing in general has started to become the center of our computing and communication experiences. By not having a compelling offering in the space, Google has unexpectedly begun to be at risk of being marginalized in an important universe where it doesn't play very well. Buzz, however, is certainly not a Facebook killer and probably never will be. It's something unique and different yet potentially just as significant.

    This means if Facebook is your favorite social network to stay in contact with friends, co-workers, and family, Buzz is much more likely to be something that you'll use to figure out what's going on right now that's really important or get something done in a directed, collaborative manner. In this way, Google understands the usefulness of the Social Web and Buzz shows this fairly clearly in practice in a way that I never got from Google Wave. That Google decided to immediately open it up so widely in a few days shouldn't be underestimated either: This was obviously felt by them to be a time critical industry move.

For now, much of the analysis of Google Buzz is caught up in minor features that are missing (like two-way communication with Twitter) or in tactical aspects that must be addressed, such as no way to take advantage of your Facebook friends. These are excellent points but almost all of them will be addressed.

Buzz will do well, but as much as Google wants?

Barring a failure of their underlying approach to their filters and algorithms, Buzz is likely to be Google's most successful foray yet into the Social Web, and one which -- due to its open APIs -- just might be a contender. And while Buzz won't dethrone Facebook any time soon, it certainly will be compelling to the enterprise in the same way that Salesforce Chatter is: It makes existing intranets and Web applications better and new ones truly social in nature, with all the attendant benefits.

Related: Google Buzz: Forget Twitter, Microsoft's SharePoint is a bigger target

Overall, I'm impressed overall with Buzz, but the real question is whether it's arrived in enough time to make a big enough difference for Google in the social computing race. There's little doubt in my mind that it will be used extensively, but a lot of its successs will ultimately come down to timing. It may have made a lot more sense a year ago. But at this stage Google can't afford to experiment much. They need to hit it out the park in the the social computing arena and I suspect they've pinned some fairly high hopes on Buzz.

What did you think about Buzz and its business potential? And will you be considering it for getting things done in a social context, or not?

Topics: Networking, Google, Security

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38 comments
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  • First impressions of Google Buzz: Smart, useful, long road ahead

    First impressions of Google Buzz: Boring, boring, failure ahead
    Loverock Davidson
    • Hey, BUZZ OFF you dirty BUZZARD you.

      NT
      DonnieBoy
    • Two words: beta hype

      Flash in the pan (which is already a stretch) and gone.
      LBiege
      • Hey, you are a dirty BUZZARD too.

        nt
        DonnieBoy
    • I can understand your pain, I know why you hate google so much.

      I saw you down town today, you were wearing a big sign asking for donations. It read:

      <i>"Help, I spent 47$ on Adwords. 32 clicks and no coversions. Need money to pay rent to mom next week."</i>
      The Mentalist
    • Buzz is partof Wave

      This fits nicely in with GMail and the new Google Wave service offering that is in development.
      How Google integrates all these services into a simple UI will need to be seen.

      Jim A. aka Jacomo
      jim.aimone@...
    • Loverock "Boring Boring" Davidsons post his usual dribble :-(

      Doesn't this M$ shill have anything else to do..........
      Over and Out
  • Ok, but, we have to get the terminology down. If you buzz a lot, you are

    a . . . . BUZZARD!

    A posted message is a BUZZ.

    The verb is BUZZ, so you post a message, you are BUZZING.

    If you flame somebody in a buzz, you are BUZZING THEM
    OFF.
    DonnieBoy
    • Hey Donnie!

      Buzzzzzzzzzz!
      eargasm
  • RE: First impressions of Google Buzz: Smart, useful, long road ahead

    You need to change your graphic from 1st and 2nd goal arrows to simultaneous goals
    sardire
    • You're right in a way, but Google said it was 1-2 punches...

      At least when it comes to the consumer world first and then the enterprise. Businesses can certainly use Buzz today but not integrated with their existing e-mail accounts. Based on the comments during the release video yesterday it sounds like it will be a few months before we see Google Buzz Enterprise.

      Best,

      Dion
      dionhinchcliffe
  • RE: First impressions of Google Buzz: Smart, useful, long road ahead

    I agree with you analisis but the thing that really negatively
    impresses me is the geotagging feature..maybe the network idea
    is going to become much more 'real' with this implementation,
    giving their users the (unpleasant) sensation to be linked in a so
    'suffocating' way..
    nemozioni
  • Social? Turn off the computer

    and get out and meet some real, living, breathing people.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Which real, living, breathing people?

      Sure, we don't meet our neighbors or golfing associates through the computer. That takes getting out in person - and we've had our share of that this week, jointly plowing and shoveling, etc.

      But professional? It's the computer - LinkedIn, email notification of monthly breakfasts, luncheons, symposia, - that helps us keep up with who's where and when and facilitates the face-to-face with real, living breathing people, including colleagues I've lost contact with decades ago.

      Don't see much profit in turning off the computer.
      IT_User
      • real, living, breathing people

        But some of us "ole Fa++s" that are retired, handicapped,and, not able to "get out", enjoy our machines that we have loveingly built and maybe can't afford to constantly "payout" to the apps folks... (Don't laugh; It can happen to you!!) The point is, everytime someone comes up with an innovation, the reports are wither knocked by a few that are always negative and/or "poo pooed" with the endless they have written bad code experts who could not write a line of code if their life depended on it... This will be a wait and see adventure I'm sure... Sleep welll..puppadave
        puppadave
        • Retirement? The impossible dream

          Uncle Sam says I have to start withdrawal from my woefully inadequate savings in exactly two years (less six days, by the calendar).

          A colleague put it accurately - I can retire 10 years after I'm dead.
          IT_User
    • RE: First impressions of Google Buzz: Smart, useful, long road ahead

      @No_Ax_to_Grind <br><br>How about you try that buddy?

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  • RE: First impressions of Google Buzz: Smart, useful, long road ahead

    Don't know if it will be useful or not since Google does not offer it to its PAYING customers (i.e. those on Google Apps) just like it does not offer them Picassa or other useful services it makes available to free users.
    txscott
  • No way

    Will I ever add social capabilities willingly to an email
    account that is used for all purposes. I can control who
    I communicate with on Facebook, but an email account that
    is used for shopping, managing personal accounts, and
    personal communications? No way. I said no to the invite
    today and hid the Buzz link in my GMail account.
    aep528
  • Context

    Like Google Wave, Google Buzz's value is all about the context in which it is used. "In the enterprise should we ... put a phone on everyone's desk ... give everyone email ... utilize collaboration ..." - YES!

    Without context it can be hard to comprehend the incredible value of Buzz (& Wave) - as it was difficult to understand why in the world every worker would need a phone or email - how will they ever get any work done?

    In the Enterprise email is the primary tool for workflow, content mgmt, communication, collaboration, business intelligence, search, contact mgmt, reporting - basically everything. With all the other options, email still dominates the daily lives of knowledge workers. Email dominates because it is more flexible than all the other business applications we use - so we might get our content from those systems but we put it in email.

    While flexible, email is linear - conversation is not and therefore collaboration is not. Regardless of what upper mgmt needs to tell itself to sleep well at night, business processes & workflow will never be linear either - which is why collaboration is so important.

    Google was the first big player to get this and it first manifest itself in conversational threading in Gmail which takes some getting used to - but is so important because it takes email beyond linear messaging. Buzz takes this idea further by incorporating much more flexibility in the sharing, commenting, and working together on content - it pushes beyond messaging into the world of collaboration. This is a BIG deal.

    Facebook is fun as is socializing at a bar or club but Facebook isn't coming to the Enterprise any sooner than you're wearing Friday night's outfit to work - I'm talking to you Stacey!

    The only place Buzz (and Google Apps) is more exciting than the Enterprise is in the SMB space. This is the first time in history any size business can utilize the world's best technology - zero capital investment required. We can already see the effect this can have in publishing. 80% of the US economy is services - the impact of ubiquitous IT services is going to be huge. Forget Facebook - every firm in the world can now use any business application they want.
    @...