Google Buzz: How it works

Google Buzz rolls out to GMail Tuesday afternoon, in a move that challenges Facebook and Twitter.

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    Google Buzz automatically links you to the people you email and chat with. Is it a threat to Twitter and Facebook?
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Move over, Facebook. Heave-ho, Twitter. Google Buzz has arrived.

What is it? Billed as "a Google approach to sharing," Google Buzz takes the features of Facebook and Twitter and applies the company's search and location expertise.

Before the familiar groan – "Not another service to learn and subscribe to," hear this: If you're a GMail user, Google Buzz is baked into your inbox. Beginning this afternoon, GMail users will start to see a new tab pop up under their inbox. And instead of having to request friends or build up followers like we all did with Facebook and then Twitter, Buzz's network draws from user's GMail history to build a community of people he or she already connects with. In short, if you already email and GChat someone, you're automatically linked on Buzz.

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How is Google Buzz different from Facebook and Twitter? In many ways it's very similar. Users can post new buzz by sharing links, photos, videos, and status updates. You can comment on and "like" friends' postings just as on Facebook, and send @ messages to get specific users' attention much like on Twitter.

How do you know if you're following the best people on Twitter? Guesswork? Follow everyone and weed out the spammers and oversharers? Google Buzz's algorithms are constantly analyzing users' preferences – what they like and dislike, what their friends are sharing, and who they're interacting with. If a bunch of your friends are passing around a link or talking with a person, Buzz will shoot you a recommendation. (Though this could be not so helpful if your friends are, say, planning a surprise party for you.)

In that vein, what about privacy? With all of this recommending, analyzing, and sharing, Buzz's potential as a stalker tool becomes glaringly apparent. Google says Buzz aims for simplicity. Each post has its own privacy control, which gives the user granular control over who can see its content. It's also possible to block someone from following you. In a touch that could be helpful or not – we're still not sure – the privacy preferences are "sticky" – Buzz remembers the last privacy setting you used.

A mobile mover

Depending on who you're talking to, Google is either revered or resented for its wide reach. From search to telephony, maps to mobile, Google is expanding. The story stays the same with Buzz. The mobile version of the service rolls out features that were once the turf of Foursquare and Yelp. Using Buzz on your mobile phone (and you can – with an Android App or just mobile.google.com) you have the ability to include a location with your updates. Google, like Foursquare, will ask to use GPS to find your location and then display a list of places nearby – Google has already logged 50 million of them. Tap the one closest to you, and your updates are aggregated with others from that place. Or, fire up Google Maps for Mobile, and see the places people have "buzzed" about around where you are. Pretty slick.

Check out the video below for a look at how it all works.

First impressions

Unlike Google Wave, which languished in closed "beta" testing for months, Buzz will roll-out now – and to a wide user base. Will it kill Twitter or Facebook? Don't bet on it. The two companies have fought long and hard for their legions of users, and the connections people are making on both will still be there, even if Google presents another way of communicating. If you don't yet have Buzz in your GMail, be patient – Google says the roll-out to all its users should take a couple days.

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There's still a lot to explore and discuss about Google Buzz. Will you use it? Give us your opinions in the comments, and if Twitter is still your thing, follow us @CSMHorizonsBlog.

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