Google's latest social media experiment came to life on Tuesday in the form of Google Buzz: a social media sharing service built into your Gmail window. Buzz will let you share photos, links, videos, and status updates through your Gmail inbox or your mobile device's Web browser.
Google is still rolling out the service to all Gmail users, but if you can't wait, we have a couple of ways that you can try out Buzz right now on your desktop or smartphone.
But before you get going, here are some early impressions from around the Web about Google Buzz.
Google Buzz is not that new
It may sound like sour grapes, but Microsoft and Yahoo released separate statements on Tuesday saying they have offered functionality that's similar to Google Buzz for years. Microsoft allows you to add what are called "Web Activities" to your Windows Live profile. There are about 75 services you can add to your Windows Live profile, including Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Picasa, and others. Just like Google Buzz, Windows Live posts your activity to your public profile, and you can view the activities of others if they've added it to their Windows Live profiles as well. Yahoo profiles behave in a very similar manner.
The biggest difference between Google Buzz versus Windows Live and Yahoo profiles is that Google creates an autofollow list of people for you, while you have to explicitly authorize others to connect to you on Windows Live or Yahoo.
Google Buzz is open, except when it's not
Google said they want Buzz to be wide open in terms of data portability, but right now that doesn't seem to be the case. At its most basic level, Google Buzz looks like it's going to be a self-contained silo where your messages get trapped. For example, you can't broadcast anything out to your friends on Twitter or Facebook from Buzz. So if they want to see something you've sent out they have to get it in their Gmail inbox or watch your activity on your Google profile. I'm not sure why that's the case -- and to be fair the Windows Live and Yahoo versions do the same thing -- but if Google wants Buzz to be open, why is everything so self-contained?
Buzz is an inbox monster
Digg founder Kevin Rose has shared his insights on Google's new service, and one of his biggest complaints was the inability to stop new Buzzes or comments from lighting up your inbox. In my limited experience with Buzz, I have to agree with Rose. I made the mistake of commenting on this Buzz from PCWorld editor Patrick Miller, and now my Gmail inbox gets an alert every time there's a new comment. You are supposed to be able to mute Buzz notifications by enabling Gmail keyboard shortcuts and then pressing 'm' while reading the Buzz, but that didn't work for me.
Another option is to manually create a Gmail filter, and push Buzzes out of my inbox as LifeHacker has done, but there has to be a better way.
Why do I need new Buzzes in my inbox? Why can't Buzzes just go straight to the dedicated tab and skip the inbox altogether? That may defeat some of Google's intent with Buzz, but as Rose points out, "When Buzz starts feeling like a task (email), that bothers me."
ReadWriteWeb has an interesting piece discussing Google Buzz's somewhat confusing and murky autofollow feature. Similar to Google Chat, Buzz is supposed to automatically sign you up to follow the Gmail users you e-mail and chat with the most.
That's an interesting and helpful idea, since it makes it easier for me to build a new network rather quickly. However, it also means I'll end up following people I may or may not want to connect with on Buzz. As one anonymous source told RWW, "the people that you email and chat with the most may not be your closest friends or the people that you want to share and connect with."
Despite these complaints, Buzz is earning praise, too. The location-based features in Google Buzz for mobile are getting a lot of attention, and the fact that Buzz doesn't force your status updates into 140-character messages could be great for people who complain about that limitation on Twitter. It's too early to say whether Google Buzz will be a winner or not, but it will certainly be interesting to see how this service develops over time.
Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul).