With Buzz, Google Plunges Into Social Networking
On Tuesday, Google introduced a new service called Google Buzz, a way for users of its Gmail service to share updates, photos and videos. The service will compete with sites like Facebook and Twitter, which are capturing an increasing percentage of the time people spend online.
The links shared on those social networks are also sending a growing amount of traffic to sites across the Web, potentially weakening Google’s position as the prime navigation tool on the Internet.
Separately, Facebook plans to announce on Wednesday that it is improving the live chat service on its site by allowing it to be integrated into other services like AIM, AOL’s instant messaging network, which is among the most popular in the United States.
Buzz is Google’s boldest attempt to build a social network that can compete with Facebook and Twitter. The service is built into Gmail, which already has 176 million users, according to comScore, a market research company. And Buzz comes with a built-in circle of friends, a group that is automatically selected by Google based on the people that a user communicates with most frequently in Gmail and on Google’s chat service.
Like other social services, Buzz allows users to post status updates that include text; photos from services like Google’s Picasa and Yahoo’s Flickr; videos from YouTube; and messages from Twitter. Analysts say many of its features mimic those of Facebook.
“It is a direct challenge to Facebook, in particular,” said Jeremiah Owyang, a social media analyst with the Altimeter Group.
Still, Buzz faces a struggle against Facebook, which recently announced, on the occasion of its sixth birthday, that it had 400 million users. Buzz also risks further overwhelming people who are struggling with Web services that generate ever-increasing amounts of information.
But Google executives said that, on the contrary, Buzz would help tackle the problem of information overload, as Google would apply its algorithms to help people find the information most relevant to them.
“The stream of messages has become a torrent,” Bradley Horowitz, vice president for product development at Google, said in an interview. “We think this has become a Google-scale problem.”
Sergey Brin, a Google co-founder, said that by offering social communications, which have primarily been used for entertainment purposes, Buzz would bridge the gap between work and leisure.
“Bridging those two worlds is very powerful,” Mr. Brin said at a press conference, adding that he had used Buzz to help him write an Op-Ed article for The New York Times by soliciting input from other Google employees.
Google has also woven Buzz into mobile phones, through a mobile Web site and a Google mapping application. Users will be able to see updates that friends have posted from particular spots.
Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo have also allowed their members to use e-mail services to tap into updates from social networks.
Facebook reacted cautiously to the new service. “We haven’t yet had the opportunity to use Google Buzz,” Larry Yu, a Facebook spokesman, said in an e-mail message. “Generally, we’re supportive of technologies that help make the Web more social and the world more open, and are interested to see how Google Buzz progresses over time.”
At the same time, Facebook is staging its own incursion into the messaging business, where Google is more strongly positioned. Facebook plans to announce that it has embraced Jabber, a technical specification for real-time chats, allowing other makers of instant-messaging software to combine Facebook’s increasingly popular chat service with their own.
AOL plans to immediately incorporate Facebook chat into its popular AIM service, used by 17 million people a month. AIM users will be able to log into Facebook from AIM and see which Facebook friends are online and available to chat.
“We don’t aspire to be just a Web site where people connect and share with friends,” said Ethan Beard, director of the Facebook developer network and a former Google executive. “We want to be the underlying technology people use to connect with friends wherever they are on the Web.”
Ashlee Vance contributed reporting.
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