Tuesday, Google announced Buzz, a social networking add-on to its popular and free Gmail service.
The buzz in the blogosphere is that this is a shot across the bow of Twitter and Facebook. Though Google has partnered with Twitter and Facebook in the past and continues to do so with Twitter in Buzz, Facebook is conspicuously missing from the Buzz interface.
So, why Buzz and why now?
Social networking is very hot these days. Google is not a novice at it and continues to support Orkut, A social network originally developed by a Google employee, and hugely popular in Brazil and India. Even though Orkut has not had an impact in the USA where Facebook rules the roost, Google understood that another standalone interface was not an answer to Facebook.
Instead, it positioned Buzz as an add-on to Gmail. It had been toying with ideas on social networking and had added social search and real time search to its suite as recently as three months ago. According to the announcement, there already exists a network underneath Gmail. Buzz is the glue that holds together its technologies---real time and social searches, photo-sharing service Picasa and real time chatting utility Gchat---and brings the underlying network to the surface.
Thus Buzz does not start from scratch. Gmail users see a new option under the "Inbox" link on the left navigation panel. Clicking on it users automatically follow the people listed in their contact lists. Twitter-like, one may buzz status, and Facebook-like share photos and videos. One could also download Buzz on smartphones and in real time announce one's coordinates using Google maps, and seek out Buzz buddies in the vicinity.
Google has a bevy of small utilities in all possible technological niches, and by combining them, it has been able to conjure up applications at a rate and reach that other companies can only dream about. Google fans love the company for this, but not all share the affection. Tech guru David Coursey firmly denounced what he sees as a fracturing of the social network with the coming of Buzz. What probably is needed is a bridge between the Gmail-based Buzz network and Facebook. Google would probably embrace some more ad revenue from the Facebook network activity, but would Facebook agree to dilute its raison d'etre?
Is Google Buzz the next big thing in social networking?