Google Adds a Social Side with Buzz

By: From CBS News
By: From CBS News

Watch out, tweeters and Facebook fans.. Google is determined not to be left behind by the social-media revolution.

The company wants to take what it does best--organizing Web content by relevancy--and apply it to social media, perhaps the most disorganized segment of the Web. Google Buzz is its most ambitious attempt to do just that, marrying the Gmail Web interface with status updates and media-sharing technology in an attempt to convince the social media addicts of the world to spend more time on Google's sites than on competitors like Facebook or Twitter; generating valuable data in the process.

"It has become a core belief of ours that organizing the social information on the Web is a Google-scale problem," said Todd Jackson, Gmail product manager, demonstrating Google Buzz at the company's headquarters a day before Tuesday's event. An astounding amount of social-media content is produced every day, across Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and personal blogs, and Google's faith that it could one day index and organize the entire Internet has been shaken by this explosion in Web content.

Somebody has to try, according to Google engineers. "A lot of the world's information is what's happening with my friends," said Bradley Horowitz, vice president of product management at the company. "We can't achieve (Google's) mission unless we solve these parts of that problem."

However, they see not only an opportunity to unify the social Web and make things easier for users, but a chance to erode Facebook's advantage in the reams of user data it has amassed behind closed walls that Google--and Google's advertisers--can't see. The only way they'll be able to do that is by creating a system that is as compelling and easy to use as Facebook.

Google is attempting to do this by taking Gmail, one of its more popular products, and integrating Buzz directly into the Gmail interface. Users can link their Twitter, Flickr, Picasa, and Google Reader accounts to their Buzz streams to see information produced by friends on those networks, as well as updates posted directly to the Buzz stream.

Google thinks it can build a competitive advantage in social media by focusing on relevancy and ranking within a social network. For example, Buzz users will be able to see all the content produced by those who they are following, but they'll also be able to see content produced by people they aren't following if their friends "liked" or commented on that content.

They'll also be able to train that algorithm by clicking "Not interested" on these "recommended" status updates if they don't wish to see that particular type of update again. Google thinks users might see an advantage if they can lower the ranking of oft-repeated types of content--such as the what-I-had-for-breakfast update--without having to banish that friend's content from their feed.

The idea is to take the thinking behind core Google concepts such as PageRank and quality score and apply it to social media, and Buzz is an early example of that process at Google, Jackson said. Expect to see further updates, as Buzz fits right into Google's classic strategy of launching a product as soon as possible and making constant updates.

And on the mobile side of the world, where social media can be combined with location, Google wants to allow phone users to see a wealth of data about what's happening around them and get in on the location-aware services bandwagon.

Google Buzz for Mobile will essentially be a competitor to services like Foursquare and Gowalla, allowing users to "check in" by updating their Buzz status with a Google Maps link to their location. You'll be able to do this right from Google's mobile home page, and Google is also releasing a Web application for Google Buzz that will work on iPhones and Android phones.

And within Google Maps for Mobile, the company's improved mapping application, users will be able to see public Buzz content posted from mobile phones around their location, said Vic Gundotra, vice president of engineering at Google. That includes quick reviews of restaurants in the area, updates on traffic snarls further along the route, or anything else imaginable.

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