People have been buzzing about social networks more and more lately. Friends and family that I never thought I’d see on Facebook or Twitter are suddenly appearing in my friend lists. After several years of growing the social seeds, these networks are finally taking root outside the tech world. And Google is jumping in with both feet — today, the search giant introduced Google Buzz.
Obviously this first go around connects some of your Google (s goog) services with Buzz automatically — Picasa, Google Reader and Gmail, for example. In fact, Buzz is integrated into Gmail in a similar fashion to Tasks or Calendars. But some non-Google bits are available as well — Flickr and Twitter jump out as notable exceptions, although I thought I heard Google representatives say that Twitter integration is one-way — in but not out.
One immediate issue I see is around the context of friends. Since Google Buzz is leveraging Gmail, that’s where your social circles will come from automatically — the Google Contacts that you most email or chat with on Google Talk. That’s very limiting for me and probably for quite a few others. I have very different groupings of friends in Gmail as opposed to Twitter and Facebook, for example. So it sounds like I’ll be melding these groups if I use Google Buzz, which isn’t a very appealing aspect right now. Out of the 700+ folks I follow on Twitter, I’d estimate that I only have 20% of them as Gmail contacts. And I haven’t synched over all of my Facebook contacts into Gmail either. These groups are just different for me.
Regardless of that potential challenge, there is a mobile aspect to Buzz. Browsers on the iPhone (s aapl) or Android platforms can point to buzz.google.com or sign-in to the Google Mobile web page for a Buzz layer. It wouldn’t surprise me if webOS devices could utilize the mobile-friendly version, but I don’t have my Palm Pre (s palm) to verify that. I’ve already hit the mobile site on my Nexus One and it was easy to post a status update. I declined to tag the location of my update for now, simply because I was at home. It appears that location can easily be switched on or off and it can default to either. I do like the usage of voice updates and text-to-speech on Android phones that support it.
Aside from the mobile web client, Google is adding Buzz as a layer to Google Maps 4.0 in order to leverage the location-based nature of social networks. It makes me wonder if the Latitude layer will languish since Buzz will handle the same features and more. I updated the Maps application on my Nexus One and found the layer immediately available. Unfortunately, most of my Gmail contacts are far, far away so I’m only seeing comments from nearby Buzz users that I don’t know. Again, this speaks to how Google is using Gmail contacts to seed the friends list. I suppose it’s nice that somebody I don’t know is waiting for a snowstorm in Lancaster, but the value for me isn’t there.
It’s far too early to dismiss Google Buzz, however. I’ll play around a bit more and kick the tires. Not too much though — I heard that comments to what I post will appear in my Gmail Inbox, so I don’t miss them. The only thing I miss these days in my Inbox is “Inbox Zero” — meaning a fully cleaned out Inbox.
Related research from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):