Can there be such a thing as bad buzz? If so, Web giant Google (GOOG) may have just stepped into it, with the unveiling of a new social networking product unfortunately called Google Buzz. (Memo to Mountain View, Calif: Yahoo (YHOO) already has a product called Buzz, geniuses.) Initial reactions to Buzz were not positive -- and Google received a spirited mocking from rivals Yahoo and Microsoft (MSFT), which backs Facebook. In fact, Google's new social offering may be too little, too late to stem the explosive growth of Facebook and Twitter.As expected, Google launched the new product at a press event at its headquarters Tuesday. Google Buzz will incorporate status updates and file-sharing capabilities into Gmail, the company's fast-growing email service, which is used by nearly 200 million people. The service will also be available on iPhones, as well as mobile devices powered by the company's Android mobile operating system.
Google executives framed the launch by saying that online social networking has become so widespread and disorganized that only Google, with its massive reach and immense computing power, can make sense of it all. "It has become a core belief of ours that organizing the social information on the Web is a Google-scale problem," Todd Jackson, Gmail product manager, said at the launch.
And making sense of it is a key component of Google's typically out-sized mission statement: "To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." The company can't achieve its mission "unless we solve these parts of that problem," said Google vice president of product management Bradley Horowitz.
Signal To Noise
As the sheer volume of social media stimuli has exploded, it's becoming increasingly to difficult to manage the barrage and identify valuable content from the dreck. "The stream of messages has become a torrent," Horowitz said. "There is no way to parse that amount of information that ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime."
Google is hoping to address that issue by applying lessons learned from building the world's largest search engine. The company has developed complex formulas for ranking pages and evaluating relevancy. It hopes to similarly rank your incoming feeds by gathering feedback about what content you like and dislike, and what friends you want to hear from.
"Extracting signal from noise is one of our key competencies," Google co-founder Sergey Brin told CNET's Larry Magid after the launch. "That's one of the key things we do in our Web search products every day. And I think now that people's personal communications are getting to be on a scale comparable to that of Web search, those technologies are becoming far more critical."
What's also becoming far more critical are privacy concerns, with new location-based services that broadcast your location to the world. Google is incorporating such a feature into Buzz for mobile phones. By default, according to Brin, your location will be broadcast, unless you turn the feature off. "My concern is that some people might forget to use the privacy tools and send the wrong information to the wrong people," Magid wrote in a follow-up post.
Mere hours after the announcement, Google archrivals Yahoo and Microsoft issued statements mocking the new product. Microsoft is aligned with both Facebook -- it owns a stake in the social networking leader -- and Yahoo, with whom it hopes to consummate its anticipated search ad partnership, pending Justice Department approval.
"Busy people don't want another social network, what they want is the convenience of aggregation," Microsoft said in a statement. "We've done that. Hotmail customers have benefited from Microsoft working with Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and 75 other partners since 2008."
Yahoo piled on as well, noting that it has a social product named Buzz as well, which apparently failed to dawn on Google's product developers. "Two years after #Yahoo! launched #Buzz, Google follows suit," the company tweeted. "Check out the original: http://buzz.yahoo.com/."
Buzz may turn out to be nifty product, but given that Facebook, the social networking leader, just passed 400 million users, and Twitter is growing like wildfire, it's hard to see it supplanting either without a killer feature. And such a feature appears to be absent from the new offering. A little good buzz wouldn't hurt either. Oh well, maybe next time.
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