Google Feb. 9 made its most aggressive move against Facebook and Twitter yet, launching Google Buzz, which lets users post status updates and share Picasa photos, YouTube videos, links and other content right in Gmail.
Rolling out over the next few days to Gmail's 176 million users (according to ComScore in December 2009), Google Buzz will automatically push updates to Gmail users from fellow users with whom they exchange e-mail and engage in chat sessions. Google Reader shared items, Picasa Web public albums and Google Chat status messages will automatically appear as posts in Buzz.
Responses to Buzz posts are published straight to users' Gmail accounts in real time, making the feature more relevant in an era when users have become accustomed to instant feedback on Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed and other social sites.
Users can control whom they share content with by selecting public or private posting options, said Google Buzz Product Manager Todd Jackson, who unveiled the feature at an event at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
Users who choose the Public option will be posting to the Web for all to see; those who choose Private will share content only with their Gmail contacts.
Google Buzz currently connects to Picasa, Yahoo Flickr, Google Reader and Twitter, with additional Web services portability on the way. If Facebook is part of Google's plans for Buzz, the company isn't saying so yet.
While Gmail users can follow people whose Buzz posts they choose to see, Buzz also recommends posts from people users are not directly following, an effort to stretch the social sharing boundaries of the applications and help Gmail users meet new people and establish new contacts. Those who aren't keen on the recommendations can click the "Not interested" link.
Social features are important for desktop users, as Facebook proved over the last six years by racking up 400 million users. But users are increasingly turning to smartphones and other devices to access their Web services while on the go.
To that end, Google launched Google Buzz for Mobile to let users post to Buzz from Apple iPhones or Google Android-based devices. This application notes users' locations and identifies places around them. Users can then select locations and attach them as location tags to their posts.
That Google would attempt this is obvious and surprising at the same time. It's obvious because Google has shown a desire to improve its social networking features, offering features such as Google Social Search, which lets users receive relevant content from friends and others they know in search results.
But it's also a hearty blow struck at Facebook and Twitter, those social network services that butter their bread by letting users post status updates and share content with friends, family and colleagues.
Over time, Google plans to bring Buzz to business and educational users of Google Apps, challenging enterprise social network and microblogging services from Socialtext, MindTouch, IBM, Socialcast, Yammer and others.
Users for whom Google has activated Buzz will see a new "Buzz" link under "Inbox" in their Gmail accounts. Check back for additional posts about Buzz on Google Watch and eWEEK later. Read more about Buzz on Techmeme here.