We all know how excited the tech world gets about the launch of a new product or service, so it’s no surprise that the launch of Google’s latest social media offering Buzz – seemingly a direct challenge to the likes of Facebook and Twitter – has been a hot topic this morning. Some argue that it doesn’t offer anything different to the current market leaders, or point out (not unreasonably) that it’s basically just Gmail with a few social networking bells and whistles. Then again, experience suggests that when Google goes into a new market in a big way, it tends to be a fairly disruptive force…
Despite (Google’s) talk of a ‘revolution’ at the launch, there is a slight sense of déjà-vu about Buzz – from sharing media as per Facebook, to Twitter-esque @ replies. Comparisons have also been made with FriendFeed, the activity stream aggregator on Facebook which allows you do things like post and share photos, videos and comment on friends’ status updates – much like Buzz (and Google’s last big push in this space, Wave). Incidentally, FriendFeed’s freshly-loaded founders (having trousered $50m of Facebook’s dosh last year) actually worked for Google earlier in their careers – so presumably if the search giant had played its cards right, it could have been doing this a lot earlier.
However, although on the surface Buzz seems to have lots in common with its rivals, it does have one function that sets it apart: full integration with your email. The idea of having everything in one place may well appeal to the lazier types among us. It could also be of great value to companies who use Gmail: Google is already talking about a corporate version of Buzz, which it says will be a great way of helping people in organisations communicate and share ideas more effectively.
On the other hand, it won’t be for everyone. Some reckon that Google already runs too much of our lives, with its email, map services and so on – do we really want it to control our social networking too? And as Pete Ward, co-founder of social network WAYN, says: ‘People typically don’t mix social engagement with their personal email account.’ He also points out that while the new service allows you to integrate with the likes of Twitter and Flickr, there’s one obvious omission: ‘Without a link to Facebook, it may lose some of its initial buzz.’
Indeed, this looks a lot like a direct challenge from Google to Facebook, which continues to encroach on its turf (it’s just emerged that it now directs more people to news sites than Google does). To be honest, we suspect Google's come a bit late to this particular party, and that Buzz will have a hard time wooing away entrenched Facebook users. But as Ward quite rightly says: ‘If anyone can do it, Google can’.
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