Social networking software

Google Buzz: Ten Pressing Questions

I'm through with declaring any tech product or service to be a "killer" of any other tech product or service. But I will say this: If Twitter is found dead anytime in the next couple of years, someone's going to need to hide Google Buzz, which debuted this morning, from the police.

Google's Buzz seems to have most all the features that Twitter is missing, and Google is clearly going to take advantage of all the benefits of being Google to make it popular -- most notably the inboxes of unspecified millions of Gmail users who'll get Buzz as a service-within-the-service. My impression is that Google really, really wants this to be the dominant service in the still-evolving category of "that thing that Twitter does that doesn't have a good name yet."

I'm still figuring out Buzz's implications, and so far I've been able to try it out only briefly, and only on my iPhone. (Google is rolling out Buzz to Gmail users over the next few days, and I'm not one of the very first people to get in.) In a moment, a few of the questions that are popping into my head about the service-but first, here's Google's blog post about Buzz, and a little movie it made about Buzz:

1. Will more features matter this time? As lots of folks are pointing out, Buzz bears a striking resemblance to FriendFeed, a service that was widely hailed as a potential Twitter killer until Facebook bought it and more or less put it into suspended animation last August. Like FriendFeed, Buzz has none of Twitter's innumerable limitations and irritations. But being more powerful than Twitter hasn't helped any site compete with Twitter to date. (Exception: Facebook, which feels more and more like PowerTwitter these days -- but which had the advantage of being far larger than Twitter in the first place.)

I don't think being more powerful than Twitter is enough in itself to give Buzz an edge. (Then again, I think of Twitter's 140-character limit as a pro, not a con.) But more features+e-mail integration gives Buzz a distinct identity. And Google will be able to plug away with the service forever if it feels like it, unlike FriendFeed or almost any other previous Twitter competitor.

2. How big is the potential market for Buzz? In theory, at least as big as the total number of Gmail users, I guess. But we know that there are plenty of perfectly sensible people who are aware of Twitter but can't understand why anyone would use it. Will they be more open-minded about Buzz? It's also obvious that plugging a new Google service into Gmail isn't a guaranteed road to sucess -- if it were, Google Talk have a far higher profile than it did.

3. Will "PageRank for Buzz" work? The single worst thing about Twitter isn't the Failwhale, or spam, or people announcing that they've just eaten a poached egg. It's that Twitter does so very little to help me find interesting people, updates, and links. Actually, it's never done much of anything in that regard other than suggest that I follow a bunch of famous people.

4. What will the ads be like? Twitter's ongoing disinterest in putting traditional ads next to tweets means that we don't completely understand the implications of sophisticated ad targeting of status messages. If you mention bocce will Buzz give you ads for bocce balls? Will that annoy and/or creep anyone out any more than people are annoyed and/or creeped out by Gmail's ads?

Google, which is really good at using computers to identify relevance and quality, is at least going to try to apply such techniques to Buzz. If it works, Twitter runs the risk of becoming AltaVista -- a service that was widely beloved until Google came along and proved that AltaVista's results were a largely undifferentiated pile of links.

5. What does Buzz mean for Facebook? I'm still not clear on whether Buzz is going to feel like a loosely-knit, somewhat impersonal network of friends, acquaintances, celebs, and people I've forgotten I'm following (like Twitter) or a true replication of my social world online (like Facebook). I'm not even sure if Google knows -- maybe it'll sit back and let Buzz users decide.

If Buzz does end up feeling like a truly personal social network it'll be Google's second major pass at social networking after the popular-in-Brazil Orkut. And it'll be the competition with Facebook that"ll be more interesting than the one with Twitter.

6. What does Buzz mean for Google Wave? On the surface, it's aimed at consumers and Wave is meant for business users. No major conflict, right? Um, not: Google stressed today that it thinks Buzz is great for the workplace, too, and therefore intends to launch a corporate version at some point. There are any number of ways in which Buzz and Wave are different, but the situation reminds me a little of Google's simultaneous development of Android and Chrome OS. Clearly, Google isn't a company that's afraid of competing with itself or coming at a big challenge from two different directions.

7. What does Buzz mean for Foursquare? It features a checking-in feature that's decidedly similar to the trendy local-doings service. I'm not going to check in to both Buzz and Foursquare, but if there were a way to push Buzz to Foursquare or vice versa, I'd consider it.

(Side note: I've tried Buzz's check-in feature, which tries to determine the business or other location you're at automatically, twice so far. The first time it didn't figure out I was at Google; the second time it guessed that I was at the Computer History Museum rather than the nearby Starbucks where I am right now.)

8. How fully-baked is Buzz? I can't judge that until I've used it in Gmail. So far, though, it's slick in some ways: The iPhone/Android version is, like Gmail, one of the most applike browser-based services I've ever seen. But it's oddly slapdash in others: buzz.google.com invites me to go to Gmail to try Buzz even though it's not enabled there yet, and when I try to post a Buzz on my iPhone it fails every time. And for all the things Buzz does, it's launching without numerous obvious features, such as the ability to send Buzz updates to Twitter.

9. How patient will Google be with it? There are two kinds of Google products: The ones that get so much TLC that they improve at a dizzying rate (Gmail, Google Chrome) and the ones that either die or fester (Google Groups, Google Lively, Froogle/Google Product Search, Google Groups). Buzz will be an example of the first type of Google product. Won't it?

10. What does Yahoo think about the name? It's already got a service with the same moniker. Then again, Yahoo's Buzz is a shameless knockoff of Digg, so Yahoo might want to be careful about accusing anyone of copying anyone else.

More thoughts once I'm fully into the service. I'd love to hear yours, especially if you're already buzzing and being buzzed...

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