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Updated: February 12, 2010 19:40 IST

Google's Buzz sets internet humming

Guardian News Service
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In this screen shot provided by Google Inc., the company's new
AP In this screen shot provided by Google Inc., the company's new "Google Buzz" feature for Gmail mobile users is shown.

You’ve Googled those facts, you’ve updated your status on Facebook, you’ve uploaded your pictures to Flickr, and you’ve tweeted about it on Twitter. But now Google would like you to head back its way and join in the Buzz.

Attached to Google’s Gmail webmail service, Buzz allows you to have short, or very long, text chats with people who are also owners of Google accounts. The company’s executives describe it as the “poster child” for Google’s future: a social networking structure that automatically finds people to connect with you.

However, critics claim Buzz looks more like an attempt to catch up with Facebook and Twitter, which are vying for internet users’ attention, than any solution to actual problems facing Google users.

There are also privacy concerns that it could distribute details about people contacted by email.

Launched at Google’s headquarters, Mountain View, California, on Tuesday, Buzz has now been rolled out to all of Gmail’s 150 million users worldwide, though not yet to those using Gmail inside organisations, where it is expected to arrive next month. Buzz creates a “social circle” of people to whom you are “connected”, through having emailed them or visited their profile page. It lets you post comments, pictures and videos.

During internal testing it was known as Taco Town, and proved popular for sharing high-definition videos, said Hugo Barra, a product manager. “Google is really good at sorting information,” he said. “That’s what we intend to do with social information as well.” It is claimed Buzz could become an aggregator for sites, as Google is now for news. Presently, however, it only works on a few phones: Apple’s iPhone, and the latest Google Nexus.

Bradley Horowitz, Google vice-president of product marketing, said: “We can wire this up many ways to other parts of Google, other parts of the internet.” If Buzz were adopted by all of Gmail’s existing users, it would slingshot past News’ Corporation’s MySpace to become the world’s second-largest social network — behind Facebook, which now has more than 400 million users.

Google has tried to build social networking systems before: Orkut, a Facebook-like site, launched in 2004 and successful in Brazil, and Jaiku, a Twitter-like system, acquired by Google in October 2007 but effectively abandoned by the company in January last year.

Criticism of Buzz has been plentiful after its launch. “Now that I think I have figured out Buzz, I am underwhelmed. VERY underwhelmed,” noted Ed Bott, a US—based technology writer. “The real problem with it is that it offers nothing that will make my life simpler, even if I’m already a happy Google customer.” Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2010

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