Google Buzz and Email: Strength or Weakness?

Google Buzz, in case you hadn’t noticed, has been getting lots of…well, buzz since being unveiled yesterday. Depending on your perspective, it’s either a huge Facebook-Twitter-MySpace-Yelp-Foursquare killer, or it’s a giant disappointment and therefore an epic fail (our own Liz Gannes thinks it’s somewhere in between). Like many of the new things released by companies such as Google and Apple, it seems to function like a Rorschach test for the geek crowd, a blank sheet upon which everyone’s highest hopes and/or deepest fears can be projected. Google Buzz is brilliant or Google Buzz is stupid; Google Buzz changes everything or Google Buzz changes nothing. And so on.

Google’s new service looks and feels a lot like many other social media tools and networks. The primary input is a box for status updates, just like Twitter and Facebook. You can use @ replies, just like Twitter, and you can share photos and other media content easily (there’s even a photo gallery function like Facebook’s). If you’re mobile, you can give Google Buzz your current location and get comments about that location, just like Foursquare and Gowalla and Yelp. But the single biggest difference between Google Buzz and all of these other services is that Buzz is tied to email.

Although you can get Twitter updates in your inbox, and you can get email notifications from Facebook of new messages (and can now respond to them via email as well), those two services aren’t explicitly integrated into email the way Buzz is. But is that integration a strength or a weakness? That probably depends on how you feel about your email. If, like some people, your email is a place where you mostly get spam, and where you find yourself paddling hard to keep your head above water with all the new messages coming in, then getting a ton of new stuff in your inbox that amounts to social chatter is not going to strike you as a great idea.

At the same time, however, being tied into email is one of the big strengths of Buzz. Instead of having to remember to go and check a separate web site or start up a separate app, all those discussions and content sharing come right into the thing you use most — your email inbox. And if you get overwhelmed, you can always unfollow someone, or mute their conversations. Some people who responded to the Buzz announcement, including TechCrunch writer Erick Schonfeld, said that they were more likely to use Buzz because it was integrated into their mail. Others, however, seemed irritated by the connection, especially the fact that Google publicly reveals who your most-emailed contacts are.

I think one of the biggest problems for Buzz is that sharing short, status update-type messages or having discussions about ephemeral topics is a very different type of communication than what most people use their email client for. If you do work through your Gmail, then you’re getting longer messages, some with attachments, responding to questions about projects, and so on — that doesn’t really jibe with a Twitter post or a Facebook message from your friend about a great Lolcat video or the photos from his trip to Tuscany. Twitter and Facebook are streams into which you dip from time to time, whereas email is much more a task-specific type of tool. Do they belong together? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user bcostin

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