Google has a problem. Despite having their hands in just about everything online, they’ve never been able to tackle what is a key part of the fabric of the web: social. Yes, they have Orkut and OpenSocial, but no one actually uses them. Okay, some people use them, but not in the meaningful social ways that people use Facebook or even Twitter. Today, Google may have just solved their social problem.
Google Buzz is easily the company’s boldest attempt yet to build a social network. Imagine taking elements of Twitter, Yammer, Foursquare, Yelp, and other social services, and shoving them together into one package. Now imagine covering that package in a layer that looks a lot like FriendFeed. Now imagine shoving that package inside of Gmail. That’s Buzz. If Google Wave is the future, Google Buzz is the present.
Fundamentally, Buzz is a stream of status updates, pictures, links, and videos from your friends. You can “like” these items and you can comment on them. And if you use Flickr, Picasa, Google Reader, or Twitter, you can also automatically have those items imported into your stream. And Buzz will recommend items you might like based on your friends’ activity.
Yes, again, it sounds a lot like FriendFeed. But it has a critical component that FriendFeed never had prior to its acquisition by Facebook: a massive installed user base. Maybe you missed the key bit of wording above: it resides inside of Gmail. Rather than trying to build its own new social service from scratch, Google is making Buzz a key part of their email service (right below the Inbox tab) that 176 million unique visitors each month, according to comScore.
The big question is: will Gmail users buy into this quick sharing? Google thinks so because it’s a part of the evolution from email, to IM, to status updates. It’s also, in their eyes, a part of the evolution to the next step, Google Wave. So far, the public has proven to be not ready for Wave yet. But Buzz might be the perfect tool in getting people to think about communicating in a way beyond email and IM. Or it may be another misstep in Google’s social quest.