So I’ve been playing with Google Buzz some today, and here are some of my initial thoughts.
What exactly is Buzz? Google is great at building compelling products. They often struggle, however, on finding coherence between there offerings. Google Apps is a great example of them building a coherent solution around multiple applications (Gmail, Docs, Calendar, etc) for organizations. But for individuals the offerings are vast, and a little too unrelated.
What Buzz is attempting to do is to consolidate your various online “life streams” — Flickr or Picasa for your photos, YouTube for your videos, Google Reader shared items, blog posts — and aggregates them into one channel. Beyond the life streaming you can give the typical “what am I doing right now” status updates. Your buzzing (to use that as a verb) can be worldly accessible, or made private to a group defined in your Gmail contacts.
Isn’t this just like Facebook? Well, yes and no. Facebook is a platform. What I mean by that is Facebook wants to be your home for everything. Facebook wants to have your photos and videos, and for those things that don’t come from Facebook by default, there is an application ecosystem so you can play your games and take your silly surveys. But everything is wrapped into the Facebook platform, and you access everything through facebook.com.
Buzz, on the other hand, is more of an aggregator. Sure, you can give a status update just like Facebook. But Buzz’s strength begins when you tie in outside services like Flickr. My photos are in Flickr; that’s just where I prefer to have them. Trying to get those into Facebook, through a Facebook application, is kludge at best. With Buzz, when it sees that I have new photos it creates a new “buzzlet” (buzz dropping?) automagically. It takes wrangling to get outside blog posts into Facebook, where Buzz will pull it in for me. Facebook wants to be the “one platform to rule them all,” where Buzz wants to bring things together from disparate places on the web into a single stream.
Isn’t this just like Twitter? I think Twitter and Buzz is a more similar comparison than Facebook and Buzz. Twitter is great for giving status updates, but can be challenging to follow the flow of conversation amongst the barrage of tweets. I’ve been using Twitter for three years now, and I find value in using it. Historically Twitter has been mobile friendly in the text messaging context, hence its 140 character limit. More recently they are expanding into mobile web, but the text message functionality is still available.
That said, to pull in life streams you have to rely on outside services. There are a bevy of blog plugins that will notify Twitter when a blog is updated. You can use a third party service to consume RSS feeds of blogs, Flickr, etc. and have that posted to your Twitter feed. With Buzz, that is all right there. No working with outside services. And as with many Google offerings, there is a really nice mobile web version of the application. No sign of a text messaging option, though.
Isn’t this just like FriendFeed? “What is FriendFeed,” you might ask. FriendFeed has been around for a while, and was recently purchased by Facebook. FriendFeed will aggregate data from 58 different types of services into a common feed. This includes well known sites like Digg, Delicious, Pandora, Twitter, and Flickr to more niche web sites/services like LibraryThing. I have a FriendFeed account, but I hardly ever use it.
Out of all the comparisons I’ve made or seen done by others, Buzz to me resembles FriendFeed more than any other service. The thing that I believe will make a difference is that Buzz is integrated into Gmail. Immediately Google has millions of Buzz users. And to top it off, I don’t have to go visit yet another web site. I’m always in my Gmail. I always found FriendFeed to be another tab to be opened, and never really got into it primarily because it was somewhere else I had to be online.
Isn’t this just like email? This is a valid question, primarily because when the Buzz threads you are a part of — someone comments on your buzz, or another comment on a buzz you previously commented on — when those threads are updated you receive an email in your Gmail inbox. Talk about inbox overload. This Lifehacker post shows you how to “turn off” that “feature.” You can also “mute” a post if you do not want to be notified about further comments on that post. To do that you click on the Comment dropdown on the top-right corner of said post, and choose “Mute this post.”
But no, Buzz is no more email than Google Talk (integrated into Gmail, too) is email. The main differentiator between Buzz and email is the public nature of it. Kinda like the difference between a message to a specific person on Facebook and a status update on Facebook. Your message (i.e. email) is to a specific person/group of people. Your status update is to all your friends. And just like Facebook status updates, people can comment on your update.
Do I have to use Buzz? No, you can turn Buzz off. If you go to your Gmail inbox, at the next-to-last line you will see a link that says “turn off buzz.” Click that link, and it is gone.
Final Thoughts: I think Buzz is promising. I always liked the idea of FriendFeed, but didn’t like having to be yet another place. I like that it is tied into Gmail. I wish there was some flexibility within the system, and I wish I could add more services (e.g. Digg, Lala). I have to give it some credit, though, since it has only been out for only 1+ day at this point. It is a brand new service by Google, and has been given a very prominent position within Gmail. Google will not let it flounder.