Google, like someone arriving late to a party already drunk and boisterous but with a lot of party favors, is trying to grab some of that Web2.0 social glimmer by polishing up Gmail with Google Buzz. The app, which is integrated into Gmail, includes the best features of Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other well-known social media offerings in a way that only Google could pull off. Buzz began rolling out to Gmail inboxes just minutes after a presentation at Google's headquarters today.
Buzz has its own user interface and leverages the data about you that's already inside Gmail—for example, it automatically builds a friend list for you to follow by looking at those people you already e-mail and chat with. It also lets you to share pictures, videos and Weblinks—and comment, like or recommend them to friends. You'll also be able to add Twitter updates, flickr images, and other external offerings (although Facebook was notably absent from the list of available services).
Buzz's product manager Todd Jackson demonstrated the system, prominently noting that "the inbox is the center" of many people's online social experience, before running through Buzz's features. They include:
- The ability to change privacy settings on each piece information that you share.
- Connect to Picasa, Google Reader, Twitter, and flickr.
- Status updates in your Gmail inbox, as well as replies from email.
- Twitter-style @replies.
- A recommendation engine so that you can spread good posts from friends-of-friends.
The Gmail inbox now includes real-time updating feeds from your Buzz friends, extremely similar to the way live Tweet updates get added to the top of key search result windows in Google's search. It's also a lot like Friendfeed, crowbarred into Google's own existing services—which is not wholly surprising since FriendFeed was started by Google employees before it was sold to Facebook in August 2009.
There are plenty of gems in the interface within the Gmail dashboard, like big thumbnail previews instead of tiny ones, different layers of sharing from public to private, and Buzz's "recommended" list which suggests content you may like that comes from outside your normal friend pool. Fans of social networking will, however, quickly identify that most of these features are simply replicated from other services like Facebook's email integration and Twitter—the controversial recommended Tweep list, most obviously—and even from inside Twitter's third-party desktop clients (Tweetie for large thumbnail previews of shared images, for example.)
Will Google Buzz be able to catch up with the social media momentum that is currently led by Twitter and Facebook? Rolling out the service to more than 146 million monthly Gmail users certainly gives Google a running start.