A few minutes ago, Google Buzz went live at http://buzz.google.com. Google posted a video introducing the Buzz, which ties together Google contacts into a distributed social network accessed through a new tab in Gmail.
In a live webcast on YouTube, Bradley Horowitz (@elatable) explained what Google was after with Buzz: a way to add relevance to the information firehose represented by social messaging and activity. The Web application will act as a user interface to for social data.
Based upon the demo, it will be a snappy app for processing, sharing and annotating images, video and conversations. “Organizing the world’s social information has been a large problem, the kind @Google likes to solve,” said Buzz product manager Todd Jackson, explaining at least some of the why behind the application of algorithmic authority to social media. Jackson writes more in his introduction to Google Buzz at Google’s official blog.
Content shared on Buzz can be posted publicly to a Google Profile (like the one for, say, Alexander Howard) or sent privately within a network. At first glance, the user interface and contrls looks like a Friendfeed clone, with the additional of familiar keyboard shortcuts from gmail and Google Reader. And, notably, Google has adopted the “@reply” convention from the Twitter community as a means of initiating a conversation with contact.
To get a user started with a network, Buzz will autofollow people you’ve emailed. In other words, as Jeremiah Owyang predicted last summer, Google made email into a social network.
Buzz is also mobile.
The mobile Web application, which works on both iPhone and Android, includes geotagging and voice recognition, allowing the user to make spoken updates. While Google profiles will aggregate a user’s Buzz activity, “Places” will aggregate location-based reviews. (In other words, look out Yelp.) A “Nearby” button provides location-based context for Buzz users. Google also launched a new mobile verion of Google Maps, adding a a social layer to its maps. The new “conversation bubbles” on Google Maps indicate geotagged Buzz updates and look like a lightweight, useful version of Twittervision.
Coming soon to the enterprise
Google Buzz will be launched as an enterprise product, says Horowitz. Buzz would likely serve as microblogging layer for Google Apps, providing helpful filtering for the noise of the social Web, unlike Wave, which added it. “A lot of the functionality is inspired by Wave,” said Horowitz, a likely nod to a decision to adopt the best features of the often maligned social messaging platform.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin was on hand to share his personal experience with Buzz, offering a preview of how it might be pitched to other business executives or CIOs. “I found a huge amount of productivity from using Google Buzz internally,” said Brin. “I posted [an] OpEd to Buzz. I looked at the broad categories and did a general edit based on that feedback. It was far more efficient.”
Public feeds are supported as an XML feed and are fully supported by PubSubHub as of today, said another Google exec. By going open API and openly courting developers to join them on Google Code, Google may be after the same fertile ecosystem that surround Twitter.
What does Google Buzz mean?
All of the above gives an idea of what Google’s newest Web application can do and how it might work. Altimeter Group’s Jeremiah Owyang has already posted a quick take on what Google Buzz will mean. Key insights:
At the high level, this is a strong move for Google, they continue to aggregate other people’s social content, and become the intermediatry. This helps them to suck in Twitter, Flickr, and any-other-data type as the APIs open up, giving them more to ‘organize’. This is Google acting on its mission to the world. For consumers, the risk of privacy will continue to be at top of mind. Although the features allow for sharing only with friends or in public. expect more consumer groups to express concern. Overtime, this will become moot as the next generation of consumers continues to share in public. For consumers, this could potentially have more adoption than Twitter as Gmail has a large footprint Google told me it’s tens of millions (active monthly unique). Of course, most Gmail users likely aren’t Twitter users, but there could be a large platform to draw from. For Facebook, this is a direct threat, these features emulate Friendfeed and the recently designed Facebook newsfeed. Expect Google to incorporporate Facebook connect, commoditizing Facebook data as it gets sucked into Google and displayed on Google SERP. For small busineses and retailers, this will impact their search engine results pages, as a single top ‘buzzer’ could cause their content to be very relevant, if that person was relevant, then their influential content could show at top of SERP pages. Expect Google to continue to offer advertising options now around buzz content –fueling their revenues.
Strong, near real-time analysis from Owyang. One area he didn’t dwell as much on is the utility to both businesses and many users of the social Web who want relevance for work or for specific topics, without the noise that often obscures both on Twitter, Facebook or other social networks. Power users have had to evolve many strategies to filter signal from the noise, including shadow accounts, lists, keyword searches or alerts. Google Buzz has the potential to allow over 150 million gmail users to quickly filter the most useful content from the social Web and then selectively share it with either friends, colleagues or the open Web. That action, often termed “curation” in the digital journalism space, is singularly useful.
If Buzz easily enables that activity for mobile users, it will have the potential to massively disrupt the nascent mobile social networking space that currently includes Yelp, Gowalla, Brightkite, Loopt and Foursquare. If users turn to Buzz for reviews, to find who is nearby or what’s being discussed in the neighborhood, Google will also have made Google Maps much stickier, which could in turn make it a more useful platform for contextual mobile advertising. Given the potential for targeted ads based on location to be more useful, that might in turn be of great utility to both users and the search engine giant, though electronic privacy advocates are likely to look at the move with concern.
Will people use Buzz? That’s the multi-million dollar question. Facebook and Twitter own the social Web, as it stands. If Buzz offers a UI that adds relevance, it has a shot. If users find utility in the way that Buzz helps them filter social media from other platform, it could stack up well against Brizzly, Seesmic or similar “social dashboards.”
I’ll keep an eye out for the function to go live in my inbox in the meantime and read TechMeme for other reactions.