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Google adds Google Buzz: Location-aware social networking

Google launched its latest bid for info-ubiquity, a sweeping social-networking service called Google Buzz built on its Gmail service.


Buzz incorporates functions already offered by such popular sites as Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and FourSquare -- among many others.

In an hour-long event at Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters webcast on YouTube, company product managers explained that Google wants to help people deal with the overload of information streaming out of other social-media services -- yes, by launching yet another social-media service.

As a short introductory video explains, Buzz requires an active Gmail account and Google Contacts list. It uses those ingredients to plot its "social graph" of your friends: Buzz assumes the people you talk to the most in e-mail are the ones you want to hear from the most on this new service. (Since I've used my Gmail account mainly for commercial e-mails from stores, financial institutions, airlines and so on, this part won't work for me.)

Once Buzz is active in your Gmail account -- something that will happen gradually as Google deploys it -- you'll be able to choose between publicly or privately posting comments, links, photos and videos. Public posts, or buzzes, will show up on your Google Profile (remember how Google began building up that feature without an obvious need for it?) and can appear in Google Web searches -- much as Twitter updates do today. Private buzzes will show up only for other Buzz users who are on your Google Contacts list, or a subset that you designate for each buzz -- just as Facebook lets you choose who will see each status update.

Incoming buzzes appear right in your Gmail inbox; Google reps showed off how videos played inline, photo slideshows appeared in a nifty graphical overlay and comments on buzzes showed up automatically and in real time. (They used the new Mac version of Google's Chrome browser for this demo.) You can respond other people's buzzes using a Twitteresque "@ reply" format. Buzz will also recommend buzzes from people you don't follow if it thinks enough of your friends have commented on them and will "collapse" buzzes that draw few comments or provide little information.

Buzz can also pull in content from other sites, such as Twitter, Yahoo's Flickr and Google's own Picasa, YouTube and Blogger -- but you can't post to Twitter from Buzz, something that emerged only in a Q&A session after the presentation. Most important, there is no connection with Facebook, the dominant social network that just claimed its 400 millionth user (in comparison, Gmail is at around 146 million users, although both figures count people who rarely log in).

Buzz appears more ambitious, and a tad creepier, on a mobile device. It ties into the location-aware capabilities Google has built into such sites as Google Maps to determine your location, then goes a step further to try to map those coordinates to real-world places and establishments -- so instead of placing you at 1600 Ampitheatre Pkwy. in Mountain View, it knows you're at the Googleplex.

Using just-updated versions of Google Maps for Android and other platforms (an update for Apple's iPhone will come later), you can then easily announce your presence at a given store, restaurant, bar or airport and post a comment or photo about the place. The former feature threatens FourSquare and its increasingly popular check-in feature; the latter represents a stab at Yelp's business of rating real-world establishments.

You can also see other people's buzzes in Google Maps as little quote-bubble icons. Within a few miles of my home, I can see such recent buzzes as "At the movies finally watching avatar" and "Uh buzz? Great... Another thing to keep updated." You can post a reply to any of these buzzes right from within Google Maps.

During the presentation, Google representatives repeatedly emphasized their plans to make Buzz a "standards-compliant" and "protocol-obeying" system that would let people control their data and take it with them, using Web data-sharing software the company has been working on with other developers.

But Google faces some huge obstacles to building up Buzz as a nexus of everybody's social networks. Its Gmail-first requirement excludes most people online; how many of them will change e-mail services just to use this? Its lack of any integration with Facebook, at least for now, will force Facebook users who also want to Buzz to set up yet another online profile and friends list -- and as analyst Michael Gartenberg notes, they'll lose their favorite Facebook apps in the process. Buzz carries a greater risk of privacy mishaps than even Facebook, thanks to its location-awareness -- one nearby Buzz user, who had earlier taken the trouble to make her Twitter and Facebook accounts private, revealed her apartment's location by mistake. (After I posted a comment asking about that -- which I can only hope did not broadcast my own location -- she seems to have deleted that buzz.)

Most of all, Buzz's mobile features require placing a phenomenal amount of trust in Google: You're not only letting its computers tell you what's worth knowing on the Web, read your e-mail and keep your calendar, now you're going to let them follow you around in the real world.

Forgive me if I'm not too excited to start using this. I like Google and Gmail and my next cellphone will be an Android device, but at some point it's good to log out of the Google ecosystem and give your business to somebody else -- even if that's a little messy and inefficient.

What's your take on Buzz? Do you see this as solving problems with existing social networks? If it does, are you happy to see the solution coming from Google in particular?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  February 9, 2010; 12:56 PM ET
Categories:  E-mail , Privacy , Social media  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Facebook rolling out yet another home-page redesign
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I love my Gmail. I've had it for over 5 years. It has seen me through three job changes and at least that many Internet providers (probably more). I waited and got Wave but couldn't find anyone interested in waving to me. Now Buzz will (eventually, but not yet) come right to my Gmail.
I have a Facebook and Twitter accounts. I don't check either of them every day. I find Twitter confusing and annoying because I can't go back and find things I might have been interested in and use it less and less.

I am keeping an open mind about Buzz because it hasn't arrived at my Gmail yet. But, I really would like to keep my Gmail separate.

Posted by: rtzohar | February 9, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Yet another service for Google to collect data on its users. Besides, there are already services out there that do the same thing. Just ask Microsoft and Yahoo.

Posted by: tundey | February 9, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Personally, I am just over the social media/information/data overload that our society is turning into. Do we need all this connectedness and hyper media transfer? Give me a day where people just pick up a phone, not even a smart phone, and say hello to each other. Just go in and give a restaurant a try, and make plans the old fashioned way with friends to meet there. Buzz? There is none. Whatever.

Posted by: JorgeGortex | February 9, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

This and Latitude make no sense to me. If anything, I would rather be MORE anonymous in my day-to-day and location-based activities, not less. It is stuff like this that make me think Grant Hart has the right idea[1].

I'm much more interested to hear your thoughts on Google Wave, a technology I think is much more promising. (I'd ask you personally, but you know postponements...)


Posted by: slar | February 9, 2010 9:55 PM | Report abuse

Social networking is interested just in one thing...MAKE MONEY. This is not a matter of making people interact one each other but catch users and users for offering advertisement. At the end of the day those big companies are making millions and people are falling down in mediocrity. Social networking is making people lazy, doing nothing PRODUCTIVE in front of a computer. It is good to have friends but we need the REAL ones and those are just a few feet away from home. Instead of social networking is better to say: "gossiping network".

Posted by: kobbynk | February 10, 2010 8:02 AM | Report abuse

Is it an automatic addition that you have to opt out of if you don't want it?

Posted by: Hillman1 | February 10, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

I'm usually of the "try anything once" opinion, but I really don't like the idea of something that broadcasts where I am, particularly if it's too easy to 'accidentally' reveal your location. I'm not a fan of Foursquare for that very reason ... I don't mind telling people what I'm thinking on FB/Twitter, but I don't want everyone knowing where I am all the time.

Posted by: mccxxiii | February 10, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Couldn't you just set up a gmail account and have it forward your Buzz notifications to your regular email? Also, you could have facebook notifications sent to gmail or to your regular email, so you wouldn't necessarily miss those, though it wouldn't be as seamless as if they included the Facebook feed in Buzz.

Posted by: pjkiger1 | February 10, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Meh. The law of diminishing returns is kicking in for me with social networking. More is not better.

Posted by: deduck | February 10, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

J Edgar Hoover is alive and kicking he now goes by the name Google.

Posted by: metroman76 | February 10, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

does this replace google wave?

Posted by: BMACattack | February 10, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm. Since I'm in AA and my gmail account is used for AA business, Facebook, other websites, and mailing back and forth with various non-AA friends and family, I'm going to avoid Buzz.

Off-topic: Has Ch 4 changed their transmitter power? All of a sudden I have trouble picking them up. Everyone else (including 22, out of Annapolis) comes in.

Posted by: wiredog | February 10, 2010 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Google is Skynet.

Posted by: DocHolliday1906 | February 10, 2010 10:08 PM | Report abuse


Yes, Buzz is turned by default and it's not at all obvious that you can opt-out, let alone how. To turn it off, there's a very tiny link at the bottom of the Gmail page that says "turn buzz off". It's unfortunate that Google would choose to enable such a privacy-destroying feature without asking or telling their users, but it's no longer surprising.

Posted by: spacecadetkid | February 10, 2010 11:35 PM | Report abuse

Buzz sounds creepy. Freak me out.

Posted by: Ronnie76 | February 11, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, but I just don't see the buzz behind Buzz...and the gmail account requirement? That alone makes me less likely to use it (even though I've used gmail for the past five years or so).

Posted by: SamFelis | February 11, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

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