By Neil Davey
Once the excitement over the launch of Google Buzz – and the privacy debate that followed – died down, users needed time to assess what it could do, particularly because the only available instructions came in the form of a two minute video
Spartan instructions notwithstanding, another reason for approaching Buzz with caution was brought to light by the unholy storm that broke around its loose approach to users’ privacy. The new application is tightly coupled to Gmail and users were understandably unhappy when they found Buzz was already set up to follow people from their Gmail contacts. It remains to be seen whether Buzz will recover from this negative reaction.
But if you are prepared to accept Google’s direct involvement in your social networking, what does Buzz offer the business user?
According to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, an enterprise version of Buzz will be rolled out as part of its Google Apps suite, although he didn’t say when. But he did say at the launch that he had been testing it personally and found it useful for sharing and collaborating on documents.
By posting a draft article he was writing on Buzz, Brin collected 50 or so responses, slashing the time it takes to sort through feedback and editing a document collaboratively. “It has really enabled me to communicate – you get far better information about what's going on in the company,” he said in an interview with Techcrunch.com.
“Now if I have a question about something I don't have to dig up who is the person who is particularly responsible for this, I can just throw a question out there, I know there are enough people out there who pay attention to my posts, and…it should get recommended to the right person. And I don't worry that I'm disrupting people because the social expectation on Buzz is different than on e-mail.”
For those who already have set up Groups in Gmail, Buzz certainly offers a way to communicate and collaborate with followers. If these messages need to be private, they also can be ring-fenced to certain groups, who can view and comment on them.
In contrast to the ambivalence surrounding Facebook and Twitter, several early adopters embraced Google Buzz for marketing purposes. Buzz allows users to follow people, see their most recent updates, comment on them, or follow up with a personal e-mail or message. And the Gmail networks built in from the outset, many identified Buzz as a big opportunity for marketers to listen, connect, and participate with customers.
David Holt, business development manager at Amplify, was not convinced. “In terms of whether Google Buzz should be on a business's social media radar, similar to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, I think the fact that it is limited to Gmail users makes it hard for businesses to get involved. For a business, it is similar to sales prospecting or promoting using your Outlook or any other e-mail address database,” he said.
The mobile implementation of Buzz enables users to post status updates and comments from their smart phones, using location to identify places in their vicinity. Users can add those sites as tags to their posts and also search for Buzz comments close to their location to see what is going on in an area.
“Google Buzz not only works out where you are, but also promises to work out your likes and dislikes. And knowing Google, this will happen. This advanced filter is likely to be a very useful marketing tool,” commented Matt Rhodes, director of client services at FreshNetworks.
Buzz shares many characteristics with Twitter, but is not limited to the 140-character message length of its microblogging rival and also lets users attach images. By grouping all replies under the original post, Buzz conversations are easier to follow.
Google Buzz is still in its formative stages, but could start to figure in collaboration, marketing, sales, customer service, and research functions. Like Google Wave before it, Buzz had a far-from-auspicious launch. And some observers are writing off its chances already.
“Google Buzz is trying to compete with both Twitter and Facebook, using the power of their Gmail [customer] base. To me, they are a bit late to the game,” said Darren Guranaccia, VP of product marketing at Sitecore. “People fundamentally use e-mail differently than they use tools like Facebook and Twitter. E-mail is not the hub for this type of interaction. I wouldn't want everyone I e-mail automatically connected to my network. I prefer to be much more explicit than that. While I think it's an interesting experiment on Google's part, I believe it will never see large-scale adoption by consumers or businesses and that is precisely what Google needs to make this type of application a success.”
For all the negative comments, the link between Buzz and Gmail could prove crucial. If Google can bring together the collaborative elements of Wave with the social networking facilities of Buzz, it can reach a lot of consumers and business users. It will be interesting to see how it plays out among the business community.