While competitors like Microsoft and Yahoo! have elected to partner surging social networking heavyweights like Twitter and Facebook, online giant Google this week jumped into the market with a Gmail-based entry called Buzz. But this isn't the first time Google has tried its hand at social networking. Its previous attempt, Orkut, was an abject failure.
This time, Google is playing it safe. Instead of delivering Buzz as a standalone service and website, the company has instead integrated it into its Gmail web-based email solution. This provides Buzz with an immediate audience—Google claims about 150 million Gmail users at last count—and makes it more difficult to determine how popular the service becomes.
Buzz is aimed squarely at the current social networking champions, though each of those seem to be popular for different reasons. Facebook is positioning itself as the central meet-up point between people and their real-world contacts and would prefer for users to access the service from its own website or custom apps. Twitter, meanwhile, is a disparate self-broadcasting service with no real central "place" to meet; while there is a Twitter website, many users access the service from a wide variety of third-party solutions or receive Twitter feeds in other ways.
Buzz sits firmly in the middle of these two services, I suppose. It provides a way to broadcast information to followers, like Twitter. But for now it's only accessible via Gmail, and in that sense it's centralized like Facebook.
In light testing yesterday I found Buzz to be immediately familiar, as it works much like Twitter or Facebook. But I suspect that many people will have the same reaction I did, which is one of social networking fatigue. Enough already: Even the shameless self-promoters who live via their Twitter feeds must get tired of talking about themselves at some point.
Both Microsoft and Yahoo! have ridiculed Buzz, noting that their own (separate but similar) approaches make more sense for customers. "Busy people don't want another social network," Microsoft said via a prepared statement. "They want the convenience of aggregation. We've done that. Hotmail customers have benefited from Microsoft working with Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, and 75 other partners since 2008."
Yahoo! offers similar aggregation functionality through its Yahoo! Updates service, and it claims an even larger number of partners—200—than Microsoft. "Yahoo! Updates is a social feature that lets people share their status, content, and online activities and stay connected to what their friends and family are doing on Yahoo! and across the web," the company noted. "Yahoo! Updates now appear throughout the Yahoo! network, in popular sites and services like Yahoo! Mail, Yahoo.com, and Yahoo! Messenger."
Whatever the approach, services such as Facebook continue to gain in popularity and outstrip the competition. An estimated 400 million people access Facebook, while Twitter claims 55 million users per month