Google Buzz No Facebook, Twitter Killer, Google Exec Says

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-02-21

Google Buzz is not intended as a challenge to Facebook or Twitter, but as a unique complement to those Web services, the Google executive overseeing Buzz told eWEEK.

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

After the first week of use, tens of millions of the 176 million or so Gmail users created more than 9 million posts and comments. Buzz's viral nature had many users comparing it to Facebook and Twitter.

Bradley Horowitz, vice president of product management for Google, said he was encouraged by the uptake in the service, which also included 200 posts per minute from users posting content on the Buzz mobile app from their mobile phones.

"The way that people are using Buzz is exactly as hoped and intended," Horowitz told eWEEK in an interview Feb. 17. "It's not just status-casting. It's not just checking in. It's really meaningful interactions around meaningful topics within Buzz and it's reaching the right audience and people are engaged. That kind of value proposition is I think unique to Buzz. I've heard that again and again. In the realm of positive feedback, I think that people are finding that the conversational mode of buzz is very, very powerful and the quality of audience is also great."

eWEEK then asked Horowitz if Buzz is a Facebook or Twitter killer. Horowitz replied:

"Absolutely not. Per what I just said, this is creating a new category of communication. It's filling a niche, which is not currently met in the market. I think something unique is happening on Buzz that will continue to evolve. It's hard to create a trend line or extrapolate too much from six days of use, but certainly conversation and the conversational Web is a place where Buzz has excelled. I think it is unique and offers a compelling, interesting experience."

Currently, users may only have their Twitter tweets show up on Buzz. If Buzz is simpatico with those social services, that means we can eventually expect to post Buzz to Twitter, right?

We might also expect to one day launch Buzz to Facebook, as well as push Facebook content to Buzz, right? Not yet, Horowitz said. Google does expect to one day make Buzz the most open social service on the market, he promised:

"We have nothing to announce in that regard except that we continue to work on the APIs that would make that possible and our philosophical intent is that we do have the most open, well integrated, well behaving social network in the industry. We want to make sure that users have an opportunity to get Buzz out and create Buzz anywhere on the Internet where they deem appropriate. We're working hard to make that a reality so nothing specific to announce but philosophically we want this to be open in every way, both in and out."

That's very encouraging for open standards buffs, but potentially frightening for users who felt their privacy was violated in the days since Buzz launched.

Buzz is not even two weeks old, but it has already faced a severe backlash for exposing users' contacts to other Buzz users and generally offering vague or insufficient privacy controls. Horowitz said this outcry was not anticipated.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has lodged a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission for failing to protect users' privacy. A woman has filed a class-action suit versus Buzz for the same reason.    

To ameliorate the brouhaha, Google has made multiple privacy changes, including switching Buzz from auto-follow to auto-suggest, disconnecting Buzz from Google Reader and Google Picasa and other smaller changes.

As of Feb. 18, Buzz now has its own section on the Google Dashboard, which offers a private summary of the data associated with a user's Google account, as well as privacy setting controls. Users can see how many people they're following, how many people are following them and other relevant info.

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