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With Buzz, Google Shows its Facebook Envy

Google Buzz and the services it supports at launch

I was totally on board with Google Buzz (s GOOG), the company’s late entry into the modern-day social web launching today, until it became dramatically evident how freaked out Google is by Facebook. Despite multiple questions from journalists at today’s press briefing at Google’s HQ in Mountain View, Calif., today about the elephant in the room, the Buzz product team and executives couldn’t manage a single utterance of the word “Facebook.”

Such silence has two implications: One, it speaks to defensive and reactive product design; and two, it shows that Google’s aim is not a fully open and integrated approach. That’s self-defeating, considering the stated aim of Google Buzz is to bring relevance to the world of sharing information online. If Google Buzz is yet another place that privileges its own information creation and recommendations, we users get stuck in another silo. Of course, siloing information can be good for users’ personal privacy as well as any company’s hope to own a market — and we all know Facebook is just as guilty as Google of that.

Still, Google co-founder Sergey Brin limply tried to defend the also-ran social network Orkut’s dominance in its markets and spoke in vague terms about how “at any given time there are definitely successful companies.” Meanwhile both Vic Gundotra and Bradley Horowitz reminded the crowd gathered in person and by webcast that Google was not the first search engine, but won by being better than those it followed.

Buzz product manager Todd Jackson did say, without mentioning Facebook by name but responding to a question about integrating Facebook Connect, “We don’t have anything to announce on that at this time but it’s something that we’ll think about.”

To be fair, Google Buzz looks quite useful. It borrows the best elements of sites like Twitter (status updates, following), Flickr (a nice photo viewer), Friendfeed (condensed real-time information), Tumblr (encouraging commenting on followed friends), Foursquare and Gowalla (location-aware check-ins via mobile), and Yammer and Socialcast (Horowitz said enterprise support is on the way). Oh, and Facebook (private and public sharing controls, in-line media, etc., etc.).

But Google Buzz also adds some extremely useful tweaks:

* Auto-following the 40 people you email and chat with the most from the time you open the product (which is rolling out to Gmail users over the next 24 hours)

* Really nice email integration — this tops Facebook by far, though it could easily get out of control. Buzz items show up directly in your inbox, as well as in a tab within Gmail. You can open an item to comment directly because it’s a “live object with an open connection to the server that gets updates in all time,” as Jackson described it. @replies a la Twitter can lasso someone directly into a thread.

* Recommendations: Buzz learns over time what you like, and highlights items that friends like and share, while collapsing boring messages at the bottom of the screen.

* Good mobile integration — on Android you can use voice to update, and now Buzz comments show up on locations within Google Maps Mobile and on the map itself via little conversation bubbles on the spot they were made from.

Please see the disclosure in my bio about Facebook.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d):

Is Facebook Video Chat the Future of Social Media?

40 Responses to “With Buzz, Google Shows its Facebook Envy”

  1. I dunno Buzz I given Buzz an unproven perhaps incomplete but I’m not seeing the killer feature that makes me go through a tweaking learning curve when I already have Twitter FriendFeed, and all the FB I need/want already.

    Gmail is not my primary, maybe if its your mainstay the curve changes but Google Buzz is still just another walled garden

  2. I am absolutely amazed at how beautifully google’s had shapped its entry into the realtime social networking market. Only now I came to know it has an integrated gowalla, flickr, foursquare type functionally. Hopefully it is the next big thing to watch. Till then lets enjoy the Web2.0 rallies!

  3. I’ve seen this point banded about on Twitter a lot in the past 18 hours, but figured it was the best summary I’ve seen so far

    “Wave didn’t work. Now they are trying to incorporate Ripples into Gmail with Buzz”

    Quite frankly, I don’t think either are for me!


  4. Indu S Das

    i like the idea of facebook-type feature integrated with emails (well gmail for now).
    Chat/IMs/tweets are nothing more than different varieties of messaging, same as emails. its about time vendors start offering integrated messaging service. If you don’t’ want them all from the same vendor, that’s your choice but good that the option is available. !!

  5. I believe Steve Jobs said once about Microsoft “They have no taste”. Wonder if he would say the same about Google.

    This seems like a bolted on feature set,also called bloat, based on data analysis. Something they have to provide (data) for their customers (advertisers). Or something Microsoft would do, no thought about anything innovative. But as the saying goes “If you can’t innovate, integrate”.

    • ProfessionalGun

      I don’t know, Ronald – based on what’s been announced, this feels like a pretty deep integration – not a simple bolt-on. I’m excited to try out the mobile side of things. Being able to “speak” a status update could be pretty convenient.

      I’m skeptical about the Inbox integration, however. If it clutters up my inbox too much, I’m going to want an off-switch in settings. Surely that will be possible.

  6. This reminds me of Chris DeWolfe (a founder of MySpace) being interviewed by Michael Arrington at TechCrunch50 in 2008. DeWolfe seemed to find it almost physically painful to say the word “Facebook” and did so only after Arrington tweaked him about his repeated references to “our competitors.” That may not be a good precedent for Google to follow, as things haven’t gone well for MySpace lately.

    • ProfessionalGun

      I have trouble with the idea that it’s bad to not mention a competitor. MySpace didn’t lose the crown because it wouldn’t mention Facebook. . . it lost the crown because a better approach gained traction. Why should a company mention its biggest competitors in the announcement of its new product?

      And maybe there’s another layer to Google’s silence about Facebook. Maybe Facebook denied them integration privileges. I’m sure there’s a level of defensiveness on both sides (we’re certainly seeing it from Yahoo and Microsoft since this announcement) . . . and I really don’t think it’s indicative of anything other than simple competition. (Which is a good thing, right?)

    • Lets not lie guys, Google brings much needed innovation to any field. It’s no big deal not talking about Facebook, they’re competitors.

      And lets not be superstitious and say things might turn out bad because they refused to say anything about Facebook! Come on, guys!

  7. Who would ever think Google would be late to the game for anything? I hate to see them not be “open and integrated.”
    Don’t use my gmail as primary address, this seems to be a limitation with a few of Google’s services these days. They should remember how @aol in the late 80’s/early 90’s would not let you export your address book.

  8. “Really nice email integration” – actually not. This is only the case if one of your mail email address is an address. Both my work and personal addresses are Google Apps addresses, and since they aren’t Google Accounts, they don’t get services like this. This forces me to check a totally different site for this “Google Buzz”, and a site that isn’t dedicated to it like Facebook is. Ultimately I feel that will be it’s downfall. If it doesn’t have dedicated sites and apps for people who don’t use an email as their primary, there won’t be buy-in and thus failure.