February 09, 2010

Google's Buzz Brings Social Sharing, Aggregation to GMail

Google's growth from its roots as a spartan, but highly effective, search engine has been as transformative as the changes the Web itself has seen over the last decade-plus. As the Web has evolved to include more rich media and social connectors, so too has Google evolved, as the company now operates not just the most popular data discovery engine but also some of the Web's most popular data creation and sharing engines, including Gmail and YouTube. But the company, so far, has struggled a bit in connecting its wide array of properties and making them feel personal and social. Today, with the launch of Google Buzz, the company aims to change that, making Gmail, and its sister sites, including Google.com and Google Maps, new places to share information of all types, with your friends.

Google Buzz is more than just another status updater. The world has seen plenty of those already. What Buzz aims to do is help Gmail users share content with connected friends, extending the popular messaging platform further from its roots, to a high quality multi-media social experience. And lest anybody fear that Buzz has Twitter in its sights, Twitter is supported from day one, so your updates can feed into Buzz and be part of the conversation.

Google Buzz Connects You to Friends and Followers

Starting today, all Gmail users can see the Buzz icon just below their Inbox. Clicking the Buzz icon places you in a familiar-looking aggregator, where you are immediately connected to those people you e-mail and chat with the most frequently in Gmail, giving you an instant start to a new social network. Within Buzz, you can share text, or more importantly, videos, photos and links - taking the product beyond Twitter and into FriendFeed territory. (Now also Facebook territory)

Add Social Services to Buzz

For veteran FriendFeeders, the look and feel of Buzz is an extremely familiar one. Every Buzz entry features the option to comment or like it, and shared items can be toggled from public to private, meaning Google can start indexing the shares into its search engine, or ignore them outright.

At launch, Buzz supports a few major services, including Google Reader, Flickr, Picasa and Twitter. Unlike many other aggregators we have covered in the last few years, Buzz isn't looking to pull in all links from dozens of different social sites, but instead, aims to make the act of sharing more commonplace for the mainstream.

Photos Shared On Buzz With Likes, Comments

Some of Buzz's main attributes include the product's attention to detail. Photos shared in Buzz are very high quality and can be viewed quickly. YouTube video shares play in line, and interestingly, links that are shared as status updates give the option to share any images from the page, much like FriendFeed's bookmarklet - only without the need for the user to install any JavaScript code on the browser.

Recommended Content from Buzz From a Friend of a Friend

Additionally, thanks to Buzz being partnered with Gmail, the e-mail in box is hardly the second cousin to the social experience, as it is with many other networks. Rather than simply being a repository for follower notifications and daily summaries, Buzz messages in your in box are live conversations, which are updated in real time with comments from friends as they flow in. You can get notifications to your in box when there are comments on your items, when others comment in conversations where you have been active, and when people send conversations to you through an @Reply feature, which autocompletes in Gmail.

In a conversation I had with the team behind Buzz on Monday at Google's headquarters, the developers said they focused on five major elements of Buzz:

1. Auto following, which prevents you from starting a network by scratch.
2. A rich and fast sharing experience.
3. Public and private sharing to mark individual posts or global settings.
4. Inbox integration.
5. Just the good stuff.

So what is the good stuff? Google wants to avoid the problems that have befallen other networks, which can be overrun with irrelevant, nonsensical updates, often from people you don't know. Buzz looks to surface content from those best connected to you, and will lower the visibility of inactive items. More active items, receiving comments, will bump to the top while others sink.
Embedded YouTube In Google Buzz Plays In Line

At the end of 2009, I aired my thoughts about how aggregation has thus far failed to set the world ablaze, with sites like FriendFeed, Cliqset, Arktan and others yielding comparatively lower user numbers than more simplified offerings. One of the major reasons for this, in my opinion, has been the need for a dedicated, or new, social network to follow. An advantage Buzz has in this case is that many millions of people are already using Gmail for their e-mail and many more use the company's contacts, maps, RSS reader and search software.

Buzz is a first major step in making Google more social, and setting up ways for users to share their external content with friends. It's not looking to kill other services, but to make these services available in a new place.