Mike Elgan: How Google Buzz for mobile will change your life

Think Buzz is just a two-bit FriendFeed clone that's wrecking Gmail? Meet the other Buzz

Everybody's talking about Google Buzz. Most of that chatter is centered on how to use it, and whether it's better or worse than Twitter or Facebook. Almost all the talk is about using Buzz from a PC.

Now it's time to meet the other Google Buzz. For people with the latest iPhone or Android phone, Google Buzz will soon become an amazing, indispensable app -- and a glimpse into the future for all of us.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a piece in this space called "Google Quietly Changes the World Again." I pointed out that two new features rolled into the mobile version of Google Maps, called "Near me now" and "Explore right here," partially realized the long-held vision of "virtual graffiti." The idea is to post "invisible messages" in the air, which could be read by a cell phone if you're in that same location.

That's what the mobile version of Google Buzz does.

"Near me now" and "Explore right here" functionality is baked right into the mobile version of Buzz. That, combined with cell phone GPS capability and Twitter-like posting, is mobile magic.

Plus, Google adds some wicked voodoo. When you launch the mobile Buzz app and touch the "Nearby" button, you'll see all recent posts near your location, listed in order of proximity.

A button just above the message area lists all the businesses nearby, also listed by proximity. You can choose the restaurant or store you're at, or choose the "best available location" option. That's powerful, because GPS is only approximate.

You can choose not to reveal your location at all or you can reveal your general location or specify exactly which building you're in, all with a click or two. To the best of my knowledge, it's not possible to exactly specify nonbusiness locations, such as your home. That's probably a good thing.

All that sounds vaguely similar to location features on Twitter, or location apps in Facebook. But those implementations are vastly inferior, and far less immediately usable.

More important, I believe Google Buzz will trigger a culture-changing "network effect." That's where a snowballing of usage occurs: The more people use a network, the more valuable it becomes; the more valuable it becomes, the more people use it -- just like, say, the Web, e-mail or cell phones.

Google Buzz on a PC is a closed experience in two ways: First, you need Gmail to fully experience it. Second, you get messages only from people you're following. With Google Buzz on a PC, you're blind to non-Gmail users, and also to everybody you're not following.

Google Buzz on a phone is the opposite: You don't need Gmail. And you can see the tweets of people whether you're following them or not. In the "Nearby" mode, you're automatically "following" whoever happens to be or has been near wherever it is you are. And they're following you. When you leave the area, you stop "following" them and start "following" the people near your new location.

The power of Google Buzz on a GPS-enabled cell phone is abstract, and it must be experienced to fully understand it. But until you do, let me tell you eight things you can do with Google Buzz on a compatible iPhone or Android device that can change your life:

1. Promote your business

Last year, one of the big stories on Twitter was food trucks selling cupcakes or Korean barbecue via tweets. Bakeries would tweet when fresh cookies were coming out of the oven. Small businesses of all kinds were first promoting their Twitter feeds, then using those feeds to promote time-sensitive information to customers.

Google Buzz can do the same thing, but with two very big differences. First, you don't need to know about the business in advance, and second you don't need to follow anyone. When you use Buzz to check what's going on in your location, you get the posts about it all -- cupcakes, Korean, cookies, you name it -- without following any of them and without any advanced knowledge or action.

If you own a small business that relies on foot traffic, embrace Buzz immediately. You can broadcast the availability of specials or sales. You can even use the real-time nature of Buzz to implement flex pricing. Too many loaves of bread, empty theater seats or other perishable items? Cut the price and broadcast the sale. People nearby will see it and come running. In addition to selling to existing customers, you'll win new ones.

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