Behold Buzz

What would it take for Google's new Buzz to succeed?


Google’s foray into social networking, the oddly titled site Orkut, actually came out a month before Facebook’s official launch in 2004. So why is Google still so far behind?

That question is probably what spurred the development of Buzz, Google’s latest effort to connect its users.

Buzz, which is basically an add-on to the already-brilliant Gmail, allows for personal profiles, where you can post URLs, photos, observations or Tweets, and links to other webpages like Flickr and, naturally, Orkut. Your Gmail contacts can comment on whatever you post to your profile.

Buzz has its positives, but also, as is echoing around the Internet lately, its negatives.

For instance, you can link your Twitter account to Buzz and cross post – ie, send a Tweet on Twitter and it will appear on your Buzz page – but comments only live on Buzz. A clumsy attempt to move the conversation to Buzz.

There’s also only half measures to integrate Google Talk, Gmail’s great instant messaging. How can you have a conversation using Gchat on Buzz? I’m confused just thinking about it.

But the biggest problem with Buzz, and Google’s social networking efforts in general, remains a failure to communicate.

In the race to answer the What are you doing? question, Google always seemed to say it doesn’t really care.

While Facebook and Twitter were avenues to broadcast friend-to-friend, Google outfitted itself as a resource. The flow of information usually went from source-to-user.

Perhaps that’s why Orkut is such a messy site. It took a backseat to Google’s other information-spreading innovations, like Maps or Reader.

But Orkut, named after the Turkish developer who came up with it, Orkut Büyükkökten, is not the failure it’s made out to be. It has amassed 100 million active accounts, mostly in Brazil and India but also in burgeoning markets like Estonia.

It integrates Google Talk, and uses more playful connect features like crush lists. It’s no Facebook, but it’s not so bad.

Buzz is similar. It has its pitfalls but overall is a neat tool that enhances Gmail. (It’s got a great mobile site too.)

Both could attract cult audiences – Google devotees, anti-Facebook and Twitters, anyone sick of all the noise on other social networks, or just people who want one account to access everything, which Google has the capacity to do.

This brings us to the real problem here: Google hasn’t properly explained how to use its many sharing and communication tools.

Teaching users how to navigate Google sites is just not a priority for the search giant – mainly because it has never had to explain anything. Google search was laughably easy, with a simple interface and intuitive functionality. The same for Gmail.

Like Facebook, Twitter, and almost any other successful Internet tool, Google needed no explanation.

Until Wave came around last year. It was, I maintain, a great idea. Google just didn’t do a good job of persuading its users to give it a go.

Now Buzz faces the same fate. As users attempt to make use of the new service, they’ll most certainly need a bigger and better PR push from Google. Like, why should I, or anyone, sign up for Buzz? What can I use Buzz for? How might it change the way I use the Internet? Where do I start? Where do I finish? What does it all mean? Explain it, please.

Google’s shown it has the ability to market its products with its recent Superbowl commercial. Now’s its chance with Buzz. The success of the program depends on it.[rssbreak]

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