Google Buzz is here. And the big question is this: Can Google finally get in the social game? After playing around with Google Buzz for a bit today, I’ll say the jury is out for me. But I have a few thoughts, and will have more after I’ve played with it for a few weeks.
The first impulse I have is to fight is the despair over creating and learning a new social networking tool. Facebook and Twitter work well for me, despite some imperfections. I won’t say there isn’t room for improvement. But any new service has to clear a pretty high barrier to become part of my daily routine.
After digging in and following a few friends on Google Buzz, the next thing that strikes me as interesting about Google Buzz is how much it mirrors the approach to social that Yahoo is taking. And there’s something I wouldn’t expect to be writing: How Google is following Yahoo.
Yes, Yahoo re-made their homepage to make it more social. But really, Yahoo’s social strategy revolves around Yahoo Mail, which is still more popular than Gmail. Rather than building a central feed of activity, like Facebook, Yahoo awhile back decided to try to leverage Yahoo Mail’s leadership by making it more social. And now when you go to Yahoo Mail, it links your account to an enhanced Yahoo profile page where you can add other services where friends can follow your activity.
Back in the main Yahoo Mail page, you also have an applications window.
Beyond that there’s the name: Google Buzz. Not to be confused with Yahoo Buzz, a Digg-like voting and ranking service. Was there really not something else available? At least they didn’t call it Googlebook or Gitter.
Okay, beyond the quick comparisons, there remains the question of utility. On Google Buzz, I can pull in tweets, but can’t publish them out. And there’s no ability to link my Facebook account. Those are both big flaws in my view. If I’m going to build a new social network on someone else’s platform, I want it to work well with the others I’ve already created.
As it stands now, I can’t integrate these networks as much as I’d like. So I have to choose between them. And of course Google Buzz will stay way back in the back.
On the other hand, I like to tell people who get all giddy about social networking that email still remains the most social of all applications. We spend endless amounts of time on email, so it’s not a bad place to try to capture people’s activity. And as an email utility, Gmail is way better than Facebook’s messaging system. And it shouldn’t be hard for Google to do a better job integrating search than Facebook has done.
Ultimately, what will really determine the utility of Google Buzz for me is how much the rest of my network uses it. And then there is the wild card of how this will fit into my mobile usage. I’ll have to try it on my BlackBerry for a bit and see.
Finally, here’s the thing I still worry about when it comes to Google. The company has long said that while it seeks to innovate in a number of different areas, it believes that search remains the Internet’s killer app. I think that mindset left them in denial about the rise of the social Web, and has also made it difficult for them to grasp it in a way the really serves users. Google clearly is getting the message that for many of us, social is becoming as important, if not more so, than search in terms of how we use the Web and how we discover information.
It’s smart for Google to go hard at the social Web. They need to do better here. We’ll see whether Google Buzz gets them back in the game.
If you’re playing with Google Buzz today, please share your thoughts so far.