Google has given Gmail a social networking component with its introduction of Buzz, a service built inside of the webmail product that lets users post and share content similarly to how they use sites like Facebook and Twitter.
How successful Google will be in persuading Gmail users to shift their social networking tasks over to Buzz remains to be seen. But Google believes that Buzz offers substantial improvements over existing social networks.
Specifically, Buzz has been designed to help users deal with the often massive amount of information they receive through their social-networking sites.
"Increasingly, it's becoming harder and harder to make sense and find the signal in the noise," said Bradley Horowitz, a Google vice president of product management, at a press conference on Tuesday.
The problem is only going to get worse, as people continue to find value in and embrace social media, he said. "We all feel this bombardment, this fatigue of having to go manually through and try to make sense of the torrent of information that's washing over us," he said. "This has become a large-scale problem, the kind we're good at [solving at] Google."
However, as Google officials acknowledged, Buzz right now has no links into Facebook, the world's largest social-networking site with more than 400 million members. This means that Buzz, at least for the moment, exists in parallel with Facebook, thus offering no help for users of that site -- a major gap in Buzz's coverage.
As for Twitter, users can't post to Twitter from Buzz right now, but they can direct their Twitter posts to Buzz, as well as other content they post on public sites, like the Flickr and Picasa photo-sharing sites from Yahoo and Google, respectively.
Google opted to build Buzz into Gmail because Gmail contact lists are an underlying, existing social graph for users, officials said.
"Today, with Google Buzz, we're introducing a new way to share and communicate inside of Gmail. Buzz is like an entirely new world inside of Gmail," said Todd Jackson, Google Buzz product manager.
Jackson highlighted a number of areas in which Google believes Buzz improves upon existing social-networking sites. For example, Buzz builds a list of friends automatically, based on the Gmail contacts a person interacts with most. In addition, Buzz lets users include thumbnails when sharing Web links, making them more graphic and attractive. Buzz also lets users attach various degrees of access to posts, from completely public to only hand-picked friends.
Leveraging its Gmail core, Buzz makes every post a Gmail conversation that gets updated in real time as friends add comments to it. Buzz also recommends posts from people who aren't necessarily on a user's list of friends, based on certain "signals" that the content might be of interest. Likewise, it also buries posts from friends that it determines are unlikely to appeal to the user.