Google Buzz Must Connect to Facebook, Twitter to Thrive
Social media experts aren't sold that Google Buzz is going to take much market share from Facebook and Twitter unless it adequately connects with the social sharing services with which it is geared to compete.
Google Buzz lets users post status updates and share Picasa photos, YouTube videos, Twitter tweets and other content-comparable to the functionality of Facebook and Twitter-right in Gmail.
Google's idea is to keep its large Gmail base of 176 million users from going to Facebook or Twitter to share content.
While users flock to Twitter with the frequency of hummingbirds to post tweets, they quickly flit away, posing little threat to Google. Google recognizes that some 400 million users around the world are spending a lot of time on Facebook.
That means millions of users' eyeballs are seeing Facebook's social ads instead of Google's search ads, at least for a portion of their daily Web experience.
Google believes that if it can mimic some of the sharing functionality that makes social networks so successful, it will keep its Gmail users from going to Facebook and Twitter. In a best-case scenario, Gmail would gain millions of new users via Buzz, with Google pairing relevant ads with the service.
"This is Google doing what Google does, organizing more information and serving up ads around it," Jeremiah Owyang, a social media analyst with Altimeter Group, told eWEEK. "This time they are aggregating other peoples' content in a way that is similar to the Facebook News Feed."
One thing that may hold Google Buzz back from playing on an even field with Facebook and Twitter is that it doesn't let users post Buzz content directly to those services, which would expose Buzz to millions of users who may not use Gmail.
Piper Jaffary analyst Gene Munster said in a research note that Google Buzz must port to both services if it intends to grow.
"In the space of real-time updates, we continue to view Facebook as the long-term winner ... and believe ultimately Google will need to better integrate Buzz with both Facebook and Twitter to harvest any meaningful benefits as a part of a local advertising platform," Munster said.
Currently, users can choose in their Buzz account to connect Buzz and Twitter, allowing Twitter tweets to appear in Buzz. Owyang sees the one-way Twitter connection as a blessing for Twitter in the short run, noting that this is another way to distribute tweets.
However, in the long run, he believes Google will serve more social ads to its "historical social graph" of Gmail users, which is nearly three times as large Twitter's base of roughly 60 million users. Twitter has not yet released a platform to put ads in front of its users.
Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray told eWEEK that if Google Buzz grows and furnishes an enormous stream of content that rivals Twitter, then there might be a risk to the search engine deal it has struck with Google. However, Ray believes it is unlikely Google would abandon Twitter to promote Buzz.
"While Google certainly will want Buzz content to be part of their real-time search results, it's hard for me to imagine they'd adjust their search engine results solely to promote their new social features. Google needs to serve up the best real-time data possible as part of their search offering, and with Twitter pouring out over a billion pieces of content each month, my expectation is that Twitter will continue to be part of Google's core search offering into the foreseeable future."
While Twitter may feel the heat, few people are ready to claim Buzz poses a serious threat to Facebook, whose rapid growth in the six years since its birth is unprecedented among social network sites. But Owyang acknowledged on his Web Strategist blog:
"To Facebook, this is a direct threat, these features emulate Friendfeed and the recently designed Facebook newsfeed. Expect Google to incorporate Facebook Connect, commoditizing Facebook data as it gets sucked into Google and displayed on Google SERP [search engine results page]."
However, don't expect Facebook to sit there and take the assault.
The company has just improved its search service and homepage design and offers several features to keep users comfortably within its walled garden, including connecting Facebook Chat with third-party instant messaging clients through Jabber.
Facebook has more than enough firepower to withstand Google Buzz.