Google Launches Buzz: Social Networking Gets Smart, Gains Location Awareness
During a press conference today at the company's Mountain View headquarters, Google Buzz was introduced. This is the first web-based tech to be introduced by Google since Google Wave took the web by storm, and Buzz is said to be "a new way to share" inside of Gmail. "A whole new world inside of Gmail" is what it was described as, and one of the main features is the auto-follow feature that connects you to the people you email and follow the most.
Basically, Google is looking to bring a Gmail-esque look to social media sharing, and for anyone associated with Gmail, they'll be able to "get it" right away. Of course, Google will support public and private sharing, so certain sharing is only viewed by certain end-users. The company is really pumping up the Gmail Integration aspect, which is a smart choice. Twitter already has a huge lead in the social networking space, and whatever is left is being picked up by Facebook.
In a way, this is just a sophisticated version of Google Chat, a module that is already integrated into Gmail. It's sort of an expanded view, so to speak, pulling in other, outside social media shares, Picasa pictures, etc. from your most connected people in Google contacts. Videos, photos and text-based shares are all viewable within Buzz, but a customized Photo Viewer allows Gmail users to flick through entire Picasa or Flickr galleries within their browser.
There's also a Rich Sharing feature that allows you to insert URLs and have Buzz automatically pull in related images. You'll also find like, unlike and reply functions, which FriendFeed users will immediately recognize. You can also setup your Buzz entries to post to your Google Profile (or they can be kept private), and you can easily create custom groups that will allow you to share certain things with only certain buddies (college friends, co-workers, etc.). Google is really pushing this aspect, noting that current social networks make it difficult to publicly post some things and privately post other things. From using Twitter, we can safely say that we agree on that difficulty.
Google promises that Buzz will be fast, but we're guessing this is dependent on your connection. Gmail has had a great deal of functionality added to it over the years, but those additions have caused it to be bogged down when on older computers or slower connections. Granted, Google will still let you use a Labs-less version or HTML version that loads very quickly, but you'll lose the Buzz functionality.
As with most Google products, Buzz is intelligent. When you receive "boring" shares, you can click "Uninterested" in order to collapse those types of messages and get them out of your way and then sending that information to a feedback system. In the end, Google wants to use this to send users "just the good stuff," which would allow only important data to filter through. This sounds like it works a lot like the Spam Notification filter, which relies on users telling Google what is and what isn't spam.
As if the desktop experience wasn't enough, Google Buzz is also coming to mobile. The company assures us that the mobile version isn't simply a squashed version of Buzz, but rather a mobile-optimized way to sift through links and provide information that is relevant to you based on your interests, friends, followers, etc. The main goal here is to provide sense and ranking to those of you with thousands of followers and who are following thousands of others; as it stands, Twitter users can easily drown in Tweets if you follow too many people. Focus on location was a big talking point, as Google noted that human conversation is greatly dictated based on where someone is (at the office, at the airport, etc.) Buzz is able to automatically use GPS modules in phones to lock latitude and longitude coordinates in and connect those points to a given location; for exaple, most offices do not move, so whenever you share something over Buzz from your workplace location, your followers will be able to recognize that location and take your message into the context of the place where you are sending it.
During an Android-based demonstration, a Google executive was able to automatically pull up the location and then click "My Location" in order to snap the upcoming post to that very location. Imagine if you could know exactly where someone was each time they Tweeted; chances are their Tweets would make a lot more sense with that context, and that's exactly what Google is aiming for here. Best of all, iPhone and Android operating systems are able to get the new Buzz application by visiting buzz.google.com. This is far superior than a web-based alternative, as Google now has total control over how the app looks and feels.
Google is also making a way for users to see Buzz shared based not only on how important a given friend is, but how close a Buzz is. For example, if you look through Nearby Buzz shares, you'll see highly ranked posts that are coming from friends that just so happen to be near your current location. This is a great idea for discovering who is doing what nearby; maybe there's a concert you weren't aware of, and if you check in through this, you'll be able to hop down to it when you see your friend "Buzzing" nearby about how awesome the opening act is.
All told, Buzz is being launched in three portals: Google.com homepage, an updated version of Google Mobile Maps and for iPhone/Android platforms by visiting buzz.google.com. Google is starting the rollouts of Buzz today, but it could take 2-3 days for it to reach all Gmail accounts, so you'll need to be somewhat patient before being able to take advantage.