Update: Gmail gets social with Google Buzz

Google aims to help users to better manage the social networking information they get (see video, below)

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"This is Google being Google, doing what they always do: Collect everybody's information, organize it, become an intermediary, and serve up ads around it. This plays to their classic strategy," said Jeremiah Owyang, an Altimeter Group analyst, in an interview.

Buzz will be rolled out over the coming days to all Gmail users. Later on, a version of Buzz will surface in Google Apps, the collaboration and communication suite for workplaces.

Buzz will also be available on mobile devices in various places, including the Google.com mobile home page; at Buzz.google.com, a Web-based application for the iPhone and Android devices; and as a new layer on Google Maps for Mobile.

Google is playing catch-up in the social networking field. Its Orkut social-networking site is popular in specific countries but doesn't come close to matching the worldwide popularity of Facebook.

"Google has a history of being late to the game when it comes to social, and they often are hit-and-miss," Owyang said.

With Buzz, Google is trying to leverage the connections people have made on its webmail service, a move similar to ones made by other providers of Internet communications services, such as Yahoo and AOL, with their respective IM and webmail products.

Owyang sees Buzz going deeper into social connections than the Yahoo and AOL attempts. He predicts that the Google product will enjoy a certain degree of success but fall short of being a blockbuster.

"I'm optimistic there will be moderate Buzz adoption. I wouldn't say this will be the complete next social network," he said.

Augie Ray, a Forrester Research analyst, said in an e-mailed statement that he expects people to give Buzz a test-drive but doubts there will be a massive migration to it from Twitter and Facebook.

"While bringing relevance filtering to the noisy social media world could prove a significant advantage, this doesn't -- yet -- seem to be enough to pull people away from the networks they've already created elsewhere," Ray wrote.

"Buzz could end up supplementing rather than replacing users' other social networks for now," Ray added.

Competitively, Buzz is aimed squarely at Facebook, Owyang said. "This is a direct blow against Facebook. This is absolutely competitive," he noted.

Facebook has become a serious Google competitor in areas beyond the core social-networking features. For example, in Facebook, people share photos, watch videos, read news articles, search the Web, play games, exchange private messages, text chat and listen to music. Along the way, Facebook has become the fourth-most-popular site in the U.S., where it accounts for 7% of people's time spent online, according to comScore.

Google's Horowitz said Buzz is in its early stages and that the company will have many opportunities to extend and improve it in the coming months.

For example, it would make sense to integrate Buzz with Google Wave, the application that meshes e-mail, IM and document-sharing, he said.

Google wants to aggressively provide APIs in Buzz to help external developers build new applications for it and integrate Buzz with existing sites and software, said Vic Gundotra, a Google engineering vice president.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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