Google Confirms Social Effort to Include Google Buzz

Google Buzz turned one earlier this month, but it has seemingly languished in the doldrums of development since the summer, when upgrades flowed. Is this a quiet period for Google +1?

Google Buzz, the search engine's social conversation service, turned one year old Feb. 9, 2011, but most people wouldn't know it without the benefit of closely following the company.

Once the pinnacle of Google's social software efforts, Buzz has been seemingly backburnered as the company undertakes the difficult process of layering social functionality across its swath of Web services.

Google Buzz launched Feb. 9 as a promising social service that lets users pubish status updates, links, videos, photos and other content to their contacts on Gmail.

Within the first 24 hours of using the product, several users discovered that Buzz surfaced the e-mail and chat contacts Buzz users follow, or who follow them, on Buzz users' Google profile pages.

Google made the service auto-suggest instead of auto-follow but ultimately paid $8.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit related to its privacy breaches.

Privacy snags aside, Buzz was a hit early on. After the first week of use, tens of millions of Gmail users created more than 9 million posts and comments. Buzz's viral nature had many users comparing it to Facebook and Twitter. The company spent the next several months furiously iterating and improving Buzz's usability.

Fast forward a year later. Buzz isn't dead, but has the woeful smell of a service winding down. Track the Google Buzz team profile and you'll note that the group added richer photo support to the Buzz API back in December.

But the last big flurry of Buzz news dates to September, when the Buzz team began allowing users to share their Picasa Web Albums in Buzz; mute sources by post; and edit posts and comments on mobile Buzz.

EWEEK reached out to Google to speak to a Buzz team member to learn whether Buzz had been shelved for lack of interest. A spokesperson declined to make one available, but said Buzz is very much alive, noting that the service has "millions of users worldwide."

When eWEEK pointed out that from launch through the summer there were a number of features rolled out, but that innovation seemed to have slowed to a crawl, the spokesperson said:

"We're continuing to add features that give people new ways to share and interact within our products. As we develop these, we plan to make sure they are well-integrated with our existing offerings, including Google Buzz."

That's an admission that some major social reshuffling is afoot at Google, which is comforting considering the company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars investing in Zynga, and buying social software makers such as Slide, Angstro, SocialDeck and Jambool, among others.

It involves deep technical work to build bridges between Google's dozens of siloed Web services, from Google Search and Google News, to Buzz, itself, which hovers atop Gmail like the ghost of social software past.

What we're talking about, in a most elliptical way that one can talk about the elephant in the room, is Google +1, that social layer initiative the search engine is planning.

What role will Buzz play, if any, in Google's rethinking of social connections through social layers Google CEO Eric Schmidt as alluded to when prompted? It's unclear, though Altimter Group's Jeremiah Owyang has his own ideas.

Owyang noted that with popular Facebook's partners such as Zynga starting to uncouple from Facebook, and Twitter data being available to reuse and remix, this provides opportunities for Google to aggregate and build interesting new use cases.

"Google hasn't figured out the secret sauce to how they'll integrate social media into their existing strategy, they've had a series of innovative attempts and a handful of purchases, but haven't hit their 'home run' yet," Owyang said.

Stay tuned. Google Buzz may be quiet, but the Google hive is still buzzing.