Saying that Social Networking has ‘changed the dynamics of how we use the internet’ would be nothing short of an understatement. Since its launch of Orkut in 2004, Google has jumped on the social networking bandwagon with arch rivals Facebook and Twitter. The newest edition to Google’s bouquet of web-based applications is Google Buzz, a new tool aimed at steering users away from other Social Networking Sites.

What’s Google Buzz?

Google Buzz is an email-enabled social networking medium that (according to some) is going to take the Social networking world by storm. It’s designed to allow users to share photos, videos, links, and status updates with their friends, as well as discuss shared content. It’s very similar to the News Feed in Facebook in that regard. It’s also similar to FriendFeed, a social sharing service acquired by Facebook last year with a small, but devoted following.

The great thing about this application is it’s easy, one step integration with users’ existing Gmail accounts – something Google is probably counting on to make this product a success. With a user-base of 174 million ‘Gmailers’, Google Buzz is looking at a huge pool of potential users.

The not so great thing is that it’s similar to too many services already on the market. Google Buzz looks like a “me-too” product. People already have a plethora of ways to share content with their friends: Facebook and Twitter are two popular choices. Blogging is another. E-mailing text and images to friends is still very popular. So will Google Buzz succeed in making consumers switch?

Dealing with competition:

With a 400 million strong loyal user-base, social networking giant Facebook has been in the business since 2007 and is gobbling the market pie faster every minute. Constantly innovating and adding newer features, Facebook has managed to attract and retain users more than any other social networking site, and is Google’s number 1 competition. Following in second place is Twitter, with 18 million registered users.

Over the years, Google has made several attempts to catch up with competition but hasn’t managed to pull it off.

Shaky track record:

Google hasn’t exactly established itself in the social networking space. The search-engine giant has been struggling with creating a loyal customer-base and seems to dish out more applications than the market can handle. Most famously, Orkut failed to take off outside of India & Brazil, and Google’s other social media efforts also crashed in the marketplace: Dodgeball, Jaiku, and OpenSocial, to name three.

More recently, Google launched the Google wave, another medium for information, data and opinion sharing, which didn’t really take off. Google representatives have admitted that Buzz was inspired by Google Wave and described it as “an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration”. “A wave can be both a conversation and a document where people can discuss and work together using richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.” Basically, Google Wave is e-mail, instant messaging, an online collaboration tool and a wiki all rolled into one service. So what’s the difference between a Buzz and a Wave?

Buzz vs. Wave:

Google Buzz uses email updates while Google wave is real-time communication (you can actually watch someone typing out their response or comment on an individual wave) Wave was built on collaborative features like editing a document, planning an event, creating meeting notes, and so on. But if you just want to share photos, videos, or comments that don’t require real-time communication, then Google Buzz is probably the better option.

One of the problems with Wave is that it’s a difficult tool to explain to others, and once you understand what Wave is it’s even harder to understand everything you can do with it. Buzz, on the other hand, works similarly to e-mail and is focused on one thing: sharing content with others. This is probably one of the reasons why Google Wave didn’t perform as well as everyone expected it to.

Nonetheless, Google Buzz might turn out to be a lot more promising than it’s predecessor:

Buzz, on day one, is a better and more elegant service than Facebook has become after six years. Some of this is because Facebook had to create its network from scratch and pioneered the category, giving it a lot of baggage to overcome at this point. Google, meanwhile, has the advantage of building atop Gmail and being able to appropriate good ideas from both Facebook and Twitter. I call this “second mover advantage.” Google Buzz is simple, elegant, and pretty fast. Buzz makes it easy to include photos and other media in posts, which is a win over Facebook. Google does not have the habit of making major changes just as users become comfortable with the previous changes. Facebook seems adrift; Google doesn’t.

Google privacy beats Facebook privacy. Despite #1 below, Google generally gets good marks for protecting user data. Facebook has had a series of privacy blow-ups that have created considerable user distrust. Buzz works inside Gmail. Having social networking integrated into an application most people live in-e-mail-makes it a more natural part of communicating, not a separate online destination and process. The Gmail users in your contact list are the basis of your community. Buzz creates relationships automatically, which results in a social network that includes more of your existing friends, provided they use Gmail. Making networks automatically has pluses and minuses, but seems like a user benefit.

Potential for marketing:

Another point I would like to highlight is the fact that while Facebook has carved a niche in the ‘informal and purely social’ space, Google Buzz has potential to target the business user space. As many people today use Gmail and Gtalk for professional use as well, the chances of users building sustainable business networks on this platform are high. This leaves plenty of room for B2B marketers who learn how to use this medium effectively

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