The buzz on the Internet this past week has been the unveiling of Google Buzz, the search giant’s serious bid to become a player in social media. Whether it can pry people away from Twitter and/or Facebook, which it will have to do to be successful, remains to be seen.
Either way, if Buzz turns into a powerhouse — or not — now is the time to establish your presence.
Not sure what Buzz is? It’s a hybrid between Facebook, Twitter and Gmail. Check out this demo video from Google:
Here’s what you should do:
- If you don’t have a Gmail account, get one. It’s free, and you need one to use Google Buzz.
- Fill out a Google Profile, if you haven’t done so already. Fill it out completely as possible, and include a picture of yourself. Be sure to use the URL section to link to your blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts. When you want to tell people via Twitter, Facebook or e-mail that you’re on Buzz, you can give them the URL to your profile.
- Go to your Gmail account and click “Buzz” on the left-hand side of the page.
- Connect your Twitter account, Flickr account or more by clicking on the “connected sites” link in the middle of the page. Anything you connect to it will feed into Buzz (not vice-versa).
- Find people to follow using the “find people” link. Google suggests people (even auto-follows some) based on your conversations you’ve had in the past via gmail or Google chats. Once you follow a well-connected friend, you can find more people to follow by on the list of his or her followers.
Anything you post on Buzz can be commented on, “liked” and e-mailed around, assuming you posted as a public message (there’s an option when you post).
If you are in a position to do so, you should establish a Buzz account for your media organization. I made a Buzz account for the javilabbe by creating a new Gmail account for it. Please feel free to follow it.
Last week, Gmail users awoke to find themselves automatically signed up for a new (and very public) social network called Buzz. Alarmingly, it was created from what many people feel are private e-mail and chat contacts. And it showed their publicly shared items from Picasa photo albums and Google Reader, without their consent.
A surge of criticism ensued, and just days later, Google was backpedaling fast. It announced some quick remedies – automatic sign-up and links to Picasa and Reader accounts are kaput – and a few more are coming.
In the meantime, concern and frustration persists among Gmail’s 176 million users. Here’s our first installment of a primer explaining Buzz and how to use it in the way you prefer. Look for updates that answer your concerns and questions – please post them below.
How does Buzz work?
Buzz is a social network that in many ways mimics Facebook and Twitter, except that it maps your social connections based upon who you correspond with via Gmail – clearly a great shortcut for Google, which hasn’t been super-successful in getting people join its other, more voluntary social network, Orkut.
Buzz lets you post comments, or buzz, that people in your network can read and react to. In a box that resembles a thought balloon, you can type witty missives and post links to content on the Web, including on Google services like Picasa and YouTube. Get to the service by clicking on the link labeled Buzz that Google added under the Inbox link.
Buzz initially connected users to e-mail contacts automatically, but post-uproar, it now asks who you want to “follow.” Just click “Find people” and a pop-up box shows your top contacts and lets you choose to follow or ignore them. If these people have created profiles, you can click on their names and see things like witty banter with friends and colleagues on Buzz, status messages added to Gmail and posts to Twitter.
What personal data is exposed?
The most delicate information that Buzz potentially exposes is the identity of your e-mail correspondents, which as my colleague Miguel Helft noted, could include people like doctors and illicit lovers you’d rather keep private. Keep in mind that the names of people you follow on Buzz — and who are following you — is public unless you take steps to make the list private. Google has recently updated Buzz to make this deselection easier, but the default is that you will share your list with everyone.
Also, your Buzz profile itself is public and therefore viewable by the entire Internet, so don’t add information you consider private (things, for example, that would answer any secret questions tied to things like online bank accounts or that would aid identity thieves).
When you post content to Buzz, you have a choice of making the item public, private or visible to a group of people, much like on Facebook. Google has created predefined groups you can populate, like co-workers, family and friends, or you can define your own.
You can also block people you find objectionable by clicking “Block” beside their name on your follower list or on their profiles. That will remove them from your list, keep your buzz out of their stream, stop them from commenting on your buzz, and prevent them from re-following you.
So how do I control what is exposed?
Google also came under fire for complex privacy controls and an off switch that was difficult to find. It has since made some improvements and promises more, namely a new section in Gmail’s settings page due in the next few days where Buzz can be hidden or disabled altogether. For now, find user controls by clicking the “Edit” link beside your own name, and visiting the “Edit your profile” page.
There, a key setting sits near the top right: “Display the list of people I’m following and people following me.” If you prefer to keep followers and people you follow private, uncheck the box. (Find the same option at the bottom of the box that appears when you click on “Following X people” or “Find people.”)
You can also choose not to display your name, which will keep your profile from being found via search queries. But note that it will not disable the service entirely (or make you unfindable by someone persistent).
To delete your Buzz profile and any Buzz posts you’ve made and disable the service completely, scroll all the way to the bottom and click the link with the bright red writing. Remember to hit “Save changes” before you depart.
On this page, you can also, of course, add personal information that you do want to share and link your profile to other Google services, like Picasa and Reader, and to other services, like Flickr from Yahoo, or Twitter. And you can choose to let people contact you through Buzz without giving them your e-mail address.
Have more questions about Buzz? Fire away. We’ll answer more in the days ahead.
Using Buzz, you can share pictures, videos, and links, pulling in media from other sites like YouTube, Picasa, Flickr, Google Reader, and even Twitter. Google put an emphasis on sharing media, with features like inline video playback and a custom photo viewer that lets you quickly skim through shared photos. Buzz can even automatically pull headlines and photos from links that you post.
On the social side, Buzz users can post comments on each others posts–comments on your posts, or comments on your comments are delivered automatically to your Gmail Inbox. In addition, to make sure that you’re not missing out on quality content from people that you’re not directly following, Buzz will show you comments that have been recommended by people you follow. If you’re not interested in such a comment, you can mark it as such, and the Buzz recommendation system will learn and refine itself over time. Items you don’t care about will be collapsed at the bottom of your feed, so that you can still read them if you want.
One compelling feature that Buzz offers over some competing social networking services, such as Twitter, is the ability to control to whom an update is sent. For example, you can send posts to specific groups of contacts, either using Gmail’s included contact groups such as Friends or Family, or define a custom group, such as co-workers or college friends.
Buzz also has a major mobile component for Google, as the company announced it would be integrated into the mobile version of Google’s home page and into the Google Mobile Maps application for Nokia, Symbian, Windows Mobile, and Android phones. In addition, a Buzz Web application is available for both the iPhone and Android platforms.
The key ingredient to introducing relevancy from a mobile setting, according to Google Vice President of Engineering Vic Gundotra, was location data. Google has created a system that translates GPS information and other data such as time of day into recognizable place names, helping Buzz realize if you’re at work, at home, or elsewhere. Using the Buzz app, you can view the updates of those near you–you can also use the Mobile Maps application to see buzzes at particular locations: comments on a restaurant, for example.
During Tuesday’s event, Google also said that it would be rolling out a version of Buzz for corporate users, though it would not be included immediately. Executives also talked about a number of future plans for Buzz, such as integration with its Wave and Latitude services, emphasizing that it was still in development and would be informed by how people actually used it.
Given the popularity of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, it was only a matter of time before Google was compelled to enter the market–especially as the huge volume of social information on the Web is kind of like an untapped oil field for Google’s key revenue model of search-based advertising. This isn’t Google’s first foray into the market, however; the company launched a service named Orkut in 2004 which saw only slow adoption in North American and Europe, despite immense popularity Brazil and India. In 2007, the company bought microblogging service (and Twitter competitor) Jaiku, but in 2009 discontinued official support for it, turning it over to open-source volunteers.
The key to Buzz’s success, naturally, will hinge upon whether enough users adopt the system to hit the tipping point. Many users are entrenched in their current social networks of choice, and are likely resistant to joining yet another service. However, the integration with Gmail does work in Google’s favor, as its e-mail service is immensely popular, especially among those who already use social networking services. As with many of Google’s undertakings, its unwise to count the company out, even if the odds seem stacked against it.
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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