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Google Buzz takes the fight to Facebook

Google's moves to take its own large bite of the burgeoning social networking pie

February 9, 2010 04:36 PM ET

Computerworld - When the world's largest Internet company decides to spend some of its massive development budget on social networking tools, the likes of Facebook and Twitter had better take a long glance over their shoulders, industry analysts noted.

Google Inc. today took a powerful swing at such social networking sites by unveiling upgrades to the Gmail e-mail service that make it more of a social networking hub.

The Google Buzz tools, which began a weeklong rollout this afternoon, aim to help users better find the most important information contained in their flood of social posts, pictures and video.

"We're giving you tools and techniques that will let you manage your time better," said Bradley Horowitz, Google's vice president of product management. "Increasingly, it's hard to find value and not let it all just wash over you. We feel this bombardment, this fatigue of dealing with the rush of information."

Google Buzz is a new tab in Gmail that enables users to connect with one another and pull in information from sites like Twitter, YouTube, Picasa and Flickr. Social updates and posts will appear in users' Gmail in-boxes.

Buzz also is geared to make recommendations of posts from people a user might not follow but would likely find interesting.

Company executives today also unveiled a mobile version of Buzz and disclosed that an enterprise version is in the works.

Analysts said it all comes down to appetite.

Google, the most powerful company on the Internet, wants its share of the social networking pie. And it's one heck of a big pie. Facebook alone has about 400 million users, while Twitter has more than 45 million.

That, according to Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc., is a lot of eyeballs that Google is now missing.

"Google obviously covets the millions and millions of Facebook and MySpace users and wants to monetize them," added Olds. "This represents a new market for Google, which up to now has had tools that users would use for particular tasks rather than linger on for extended periods of time. This is a serious bid by Google to use its strengths in other areas -- think search, mobility and locality -- to support its own social networking hub."

Google's move could also deliver a quick blow to Facebook and Twitter, which have been riding high on the social networking stratosphere. Even though Google Buzz is just out of the starting gate, Google quickly can draw on the "tens of millions" of Gmail users, as well as its own online cache, to quickly build a Buzz following.

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