Google Starts Buzzing in Social Media Sphere

In a sign of the digital times, Web giant targets social-networking as the next frontier for its Gmail platform

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Looking to cement and possibly expand its stature as the Web’s top resource for information — a position that is gradually being threatened by social venues like Facebook — Google has introduced Google Buzz, a product designed to transform Gmail more of a social networking environment.

Over the next few days, Buzz will automatically roll out to all Gmail accounts with no downloads required, according to a blog post by Gmail product manager Todd Jackson. Buzz is initially all about sharing diverse content, while its grander ambition is to make Gmail a conduit for much of the information traveling among networking sites.

“In today’s world of status messages, tweets and update streams, it’s increasingly tough to sort through it all, much less engage in meaningful conversations,” wrote Jackson. “Our belief is that organizing the social information on the Web — finding relevance in the noise — has become a large-scale challenge, one that Google’s experience in organizing information can help solve.”

But clearly, Google would like to use Buzz to blunt the growth of Facebook and Twitter, by perhaps eliminating the need for its Gmail users to visit those sites as often as they currently do. Buzz facilitates the sharing of status updates, photos, videos and interesting links. It also track what friends are communicating about in real time.

“If you think about it, there’s always been a big social network underlying Gmail,” Jackson blogged. “Buzz brings this network to the surface by automatically setting you up to follow the people you e-mail and chat with the most.”

However, many Web users have shifted their daily communications to Facebook, and to a lesser extent Twitter, and many have amassed much larger circles of friends on these platforms than the average person’s tighter group of e-mail correspondents. Given that paradigm, for Buzz to gain traction, Google must encourage social-media fans to rethink e-mail’s purpose in their digital ecosystem.

To help, Google is pushing mobile as a point of differentiation for Buzz. Comments and content posted via mobile devices using Buzz will incorporate a user’s location — theoretically adding a unique and compelling element to the experience.

“Posts tagged with geographical information have an extra dimension of context, the answer to the question, ‘Where were you when you shared this?’ can communicate so much,” wrote Jackson.

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