Everybody is part of the "social web" these days it seems. Jason Perlow just posted his "Social Networking 'Systems Architecture'" and it's obvious that he's been dragged kicking and screaming into the social web. There are a few people who wouldn't know a social web from a spiderweb, but most folks are pretty well wired-in and expect the things they do online to create some sort of interaction with others.
The only place this isn't true is education, especially at the K-12 level. Here, for some reason, we tend to make the web as unsocial as possible. I suppose we don't want them cheating. I guess that's fair, but there needs to be some catalyst to bring the educational world into the space where our kids exist so easily at home and where they will be expected to exist when they graduate (both from high school and college).
The question is, despite it's luke warm debut, can Google Buzz be that catalyst? Google Apps for Education has already brought modern email, collaboration software, calendaring, and other groupware to educational institutions around the world for free. Students and teachers frequently correspond and share work using Google's tools in ways that the slow-to-change educational field would not have anticipated 5 years ago. In many ways, Apps has made electronic communications the norm (even in our district, where change tends to be more glacial than merely slow).
Google Buzz isn't really revolutionary, but it brings elements of the social web right to the Gmail interface. From an educational perspective, it takes conversations (both text-based and multimedia) semi-public among relatively connected groups. If Google gets the integration and management right when they roll Buzz out to their Apps customers in the next couple of months, then these groups could be created and tied together in meaningful ways (e.g., by graduating class, academic course, clubs, etc.).
I can't say that I'm as excited about Buzz as I was about Wave when it debuted. In many ways, it doesn't really bring anything new to the table. And yet, is the conservative, relatively basic implementation of some simple social tools, tied to a familiar interface, particularly in the context of a closed domain (like all of the Apps for your domain editions), just what is needed to legitimize the idea of web-based social interactions and sharing in educational settings?
I think, rather than reinventing the way we communicate or revolutionizing educational interactions, Buzz has the potential to be the tipping point, where suddenly sharing thoughts and visual information becomes OK in education because it's part of what Google offers to educational customers. We've already seen a larger acceptance of IM for teacher-teacher and teacher-student communications because Google Talk is built into Edu Apps. I'm inclined to believe that the same will happen for social tools in the next year or two as a result of Buzz' inclusion in Apps.