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Google feeds mobile social craze with a little Buzz

Analysts waiting to see whether Google can allay potential privacy fears

February 10, 2010 04:48 PM ET

Computerworld - A mobile version of Google's new Buzz social networking offering lets the company take advantage of the increasing number of consumers looking to post updates about their daily lives from the grocery store, the local coffee shop, a neighborhood restaurant or anywhere else they go during a day.

Google yesterday took the wraps off wired and mobile versions of Google Buzz -- a set of tools designed to make its popular Gmail more of a social networking hub than a simple e-mail service.

The new social networking tool set is designed to help users more easily find the most important information contained in their flood of social posts, pictures and videos.

The company also plans to add an enterprise version of Google Buzz at an undisclosed future date.

Stuart Williams, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc., said the decision to include a mobile version of Google Buzz from the start was a good one by the Internet firm.

"People are mobile social beings. It's integral," said Williams. "Mobility is an incredibly important part of life for a great many people. There are large segments of the U.S. and European population where that type of social networking is just part of their culture. Sharing information with friends and family on a constant basis is just expected."

A mobile version is essential if Google wants to seriously challenge social networking leaders like Facebook and Twitter, he added.

"I think any social networking platform that wants to be successful today has to be mobile," added Williams. "Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. That's the message here."

Bloggers and others are already focusing attention and seeking more information on the mobile version's so-called Nearby feature. The feature is all about location relevancy, Google Buzz Product Manager Todd Jackson, said during the unveiling of the tool set yesterday.

Buzz determines the location of users using GPS technology. Buzz sends those coordinates to the Google cloud, which sends the user's location back to the phone. Buzz then asks the user whether he or she is willing to verify they're at the noted location.

If the user agrees, the Nearby feature displays social posts related to the location. For instance, concert goers would see posts about the band or orchestra from others at the event. Or a user at a particular restaurant might get posts about that restaurant or about activities in that neighborhood.

"This could be either really cool or really creepy," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. "It really depends on use and the tolerance of the folks on the receiving end. It could particularly be a big problem with children or the elderly and those who prey on them if controls and protections aren't solidly in place. However, it could also be great at bridging on-line and real world experiences, potentially improving both significantly."

Williams agreed that it's an interesting feature but noted that its success will depend on whether any potential privacy concerns can be allayed by Google.

"Some people are going to love it and some people are going to hate it," he added. "It's a nice to have but it'll be interesting to see how many questions it raises about who I'm sharing this information with. Who gets to see what I say?"

The mobile version of Google Buzz can be downloaded at the Google.com mobile home page.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at Twitter@sgaudin, send e-mail to sgaudin@computerworld.com or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed Gaudin RSS.

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