Google announced Google Buzz today, a service intended for the social networking crowd that turns a normal Gmail account into a social media powerhouse.
Google Buzz is "a new way to start conversations about the things you find interesting and share updates, photos, videos and more," according to the Google announcement. It will be rolling out to Gmail users over the next few days and is already available to smartphone users at buzz.google.com.
Google Buzz adds a few interesting twists to the traditional social media module that make Google Buzz different enough from Facebook and Twitter to attract attention. Here are a few Google Buzz features that help differentiate it from the competition.
One of the biggest benefits of using Google Buzz is that it's integrated into what is already a powerful email client. It's a convenient option to have email functionality built in to a social network. If you already have a Gmail account or are willing to switch to one, it's one less browser window and one less login because email, chat, and social media functions are in one place.
Social media networks often allow you to automatically friend people based on an email address book or other contact list. Google goes one better by automatically detecting the contacts that you communicate with most and immediately following them. Then you can add or delete contacts from Google Buzz much like you would in another service.
Instant Fullscreen Media Viewing
Uploading images and video for viewing is not new in the social networking sphere. However, Google managed to improve that feature by making pictures and video immediately viewable from the Buzz feed in fullscreen mode. Pictures are also displayed in a scrolling gallery menu so you can quickly switch between them. "We wanted photos to be a first class citizen in Google Buzz," said Project Manager for Google Buzz, Todd Jackson.
Choosing Media Associated with Links
When you copy a link into a Buzz post, Google pulls pictures and video from that page and lets you choose what to post with the link. Friends can immediately see the images or video you chose to include, and in the fullscreen mode mentioned above.
Location-Based Posting and Results
Vic Gundotra, VP of Engineering, explained today that location is more important than we think for social media. "Location is a powerful signal for relevancy," Gundortra said. iPhone and Android smartphone users can use the GPS antenna built into their phone to search for relevant Buzz posts based on their location to find out what is happening locally. Google is also able to translate the latitude and longitude of your exact location into a place name, like the restaurant or building you are at, or even identify if you are at home or at work.
Instantaneous Privacy Settings for Posts
For most social media sites, a user's account is either set to a public or a private profile. Google Buzz provides a simple dropdown box in the posting window that lets you easily change privacy settings for each post. Public posts are searchable and viewable by others and are posted to a Google profile. Private posts are only viewable by people you have explicitly approved.
Google Buzz can identify posts from friends of friend that may be interesting to you based on past behavior. If it seems like a good fit, Google Buzz will recommend that post to you even though you aren't friends with the person. The recommended post can easily be ignored if it isn't interesting.
Relevancy Rankings for the Google Buzz Feed
This is the feature that really takes advantage of Google's experience in search relevancy. It may also be the biggest boon to social media. Google Buzz identifies the relevancy of each post based on what the post contains, who and how many people have commented on it and the location of the sender (though the algorithm is obviously a little more complicated than that). If it's relevant to what Google Buzz knows about you and your likes and dislikes, the post will go to the top of the news feed. Google's announcement explained that, "Buzz also weeds out uninteresting posts from the people you follow — collapsing inactive posts and short status messages like 'brb.'"
This feature alone has great implications for friend feeds. It prevents the news feed from being overwhelmed by useless comments, leaving more room for interesting links and discussions, and it can act as an automatic spam filter, keeping the feed free of clutter.
Almost all of the advantages that Google Buzz has over other services aren't necessarily new features. For instance, location based search and posting is the idea behind Foursquare. And Google has only streamlined the link and media sharing features of Facebook and Twitter, not reinvented them. However, Buzz is noteworthy for putting all of these features and more into one place.
While Google isn't necessarily bringing new things to the table, it is bringing a lot of things to the table, period. And that kind of fully featured experience, all in one place, may be exactly what people are looking for.