Google may have finally figured out social media, even if there have been some major slip-ups in the way. The implications of that realization could dramatically change social media as a tool and as an industry.
On Tuesday, February 9th, Google launched Buzz for Gmail, a service for sharing thoughts, multimedia, and your social media feeds with your friends utilizing Gmail as the conduit. The result: over 160,000 Google Buzz posts and comments per hour.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that Google didn’t launch a small addition to Gmail — no, it has dropped a nuclear bomb whose fallout will permanently alter the social media landscape. I could never have predicted that it would become so popular so fast when I first learned about it.
Why? Why has it grown so rapidly? Why has it riled up such strong emotions on both sides? Are the privacy issues going to permanently damage Google? And most of all, what does Google Buzz mean for Twitter, Facebook, and the rest of the social media world?
I’m going to tackle all of these questions and more in this week’s in-depth column.
Google Buzz’s Skyrocketing Usage
While it’s still very early into Buzz’s life cycle, initial indications show that Google has a hit on its hands. Linking Buzz to Gmail’s millions of users has clearly brought people into the company’s new social domain.
Google has only released two numbers so far: there have been over 9 million posts and comments in about 56 hours, amounting to around 160,000 posts and comments per hour. That’s even more impressive if you consider the fact that most users didn’t get Buzz until Wednesday the 10th.
The other number: over 200 mobile check-ins per minute, nearly 300,000 mobile check-ins per day.
Those numbers are simply stellar.
Why Have Users Embraced Buzz?
It’s a question that has both simple and complex answers: why has Google Buzz taken off as a service (thus far) in ways that Orkut, Google Friend Connect, and Google’s other attempts at social media did not?
Let’s start with the most obvious one, and one I think was a brilliant move, despite the privacy issues: it’s wired directly into Gmail. With a flip of a switch, Buzz gained tens of millions of users. With the Buzz tab just directly under ‘Inbox,’ the service creating its own unread count, and Buzz emails flooding inboxes, how could people not try it out?
The embrace goes deeper than that, though. I asked the Mashable Buzz community the following:
‘Why do think Google Buzz has gained traction so quickly? What’s the #1 reason you find yourself using Buzz?’
Here are some of the responses we received that I believe really sum up Buzz’s popularity:
– Adrian Eden: Ease of use and simple interface
– Eyal Herlin – it just works for me. i like the zero effort setup and the making of connections easy
– Sheldon Steiger – #1? It’s embedded into Gmail. After that, it seems to be exposing me to people and subjects that were not readily visible in the other networks.
– Roy Ruhling – On a scale of 1-10 for ‘socialness’ of social networks Twitter is about a 3, Facebook is about a 4 and Buzz is about a 9. It honestly and truly connects people from all over the world instantaneously
– Daniel L – The main reason buzz is growing so quickly is because it is easily accessible to Gmail’s large and already established user base. Normally, Gmail is the one site i always have open because it has my calendar, my to do list, and my chat all in one window. Because of this, i always see when i have new Buzz, and i will tend to check it and respond. This is the #1 reason i use it — convenience.
Summary: Easy to use, accessible, convenient, closer social circle, moves in real-time, engaging…
Google’s got a monster on its hands.
Addressing the Privacy Issue
One of the obstacles to Google Buzz’s growth — and a major point of criticism — has been the privacy issue. Since it’s linked directly into Gmail, people can figure out your email address. Since it auto-followed your most emailed friends, people could figure out your email habits.
All of these issues are legitimate, but here’s the thing: Google is responding with lightning speed. Yesterday the search giant made some serious privacy tweaks, making auto-follow into auto-suggest and giving you the ability to completely kill Buzz if you so choose.
In a few months, few will remember these privacy snafus. Just as people have forgotten about the Facebook News Feed fiasco and other Facebook disasters, people will forgive and forget about Buzz’s initial privacy concerns.
In that sense, Google will get the best of both worlds: it has seeded Google Buzz with people and content via the auto-follow and automatic opt-in features, but it won’t feel the heat for privacy issues due to the recent changes to both. It may have been unintended, but it was savvy.
The Potential Impact on Twitter and Facebook
Now that we’ve established that Google Buzz is growing and isn’t likely to go anywhere anytime soon, it’s time to look towards what will happen next.
If you don’t think both companies haven’t had constant meetings over the potential impact of Buzz, then you are kidding yourselves. There’s no way both companies don’t have people analyzing scenarios and Google’s plan for its social media wunderkind.
To analyze the potential impact of Buzz on both services, lets look at the key questions for Twitter and Facebook, and some possible answers:
Q: Will Buzz Kill either Facebook or Twitter?
A: No. There’s probably nothing that could kill either service. The user bases are too large and passionate for that to happen.
Q: Could Buzz slow down the growth of Fb/Twitter?
A: Absolutely. Imagine that 15 million people are spending 15 more minutes in their Gmail inbox because of Buzz, whether that’s browsing what their friends are saying or creating their own posts. There are only 24 hours in a day, so that time has to be taken from somewhere.
Yes, part of that time is being taken away from tweeting and facebooking. Even if it just means one less status update per person per day, that adds up to millions of updates lost to Buzz.
The effect could be a lot worse. We just can’t know yet.
Q: Could Buzz become bigger than Twitter?
A: It already is:
While we can’t pinpoint an exact number, Twitter has probably around 18-25 million users worldwide. Heck, let’s say there are 30 million to be generous. Gmail has over 38 million uniques in the U.S., and that was back in September 2009. Worldwide, that number is simply larger.
Yes, there are far more tweets than comments/posts on Buzz right now, but beating those engagement numbers isn’t out of the question for Buzz.
Q: Could advertisers and brands switch some of their dollars and focus from Facebook and Twitter to Buzz?
A: With millions of people using Buzz, how could they not?
Buzz is already taking a chunk out of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media services. That’ll only grow as brands and advertisers better understand what they can do with Buzz and its millions of users. Buzz is equivalent to throwing a giant super magnet into a room filled with nails.
Predicting How Google Buzz Will Play Out
Google Buzz has landed, and its impact is already changing the landscape. Gmail integration, real-time commenting, ease of use, and a new base of users that might not have been as socially engaged are now part of the Buzz universe.
Not only can you expect Facebook and Twitter to respond with their own features and partnerships, but you can expect developers to shift their focus as well. Remember last year when there was a Twitter app gold rush? I do — as the service skyrocketed, countless developers embraced Twitter’s API and built amazing apps on top of it. Facebook had the same experience when its platform first launched.
Now it’s Google’s turn. Buzz is an open platform, meaning that developers will soon be able to create new apps for Buzz — everything from iPhone apps to analytical services will be built on top of it.
Now if Google wanted to really shake up the developer ecosystem, it could offer ad revenue share for Buzz apps and its own app store. Gmail advertising is already well developed, and if you haven’t noticed yet, Buzz already has Google ads being placed against it. Offering apps the ability to quickly and easily monetize within Google Buzz could really take away from development resources being placed towards Twitter, Facebook, and mobile platforms.
If Buzz can keep up the momentum, everyone from publishers (like ourselves) to developers to Fortune 500 companies will have to pay attention to the conversations happening on Buzz. If this thing can drive traffic or put a big brand on its toes because of a buzz that goes viral, then there’s no telling how far it will go. Oh, and Google’s only just begun with this thing — more killer features are in its immediate future.
The social media landscape has been permanently altered. To ignore Buzz would be a costly mistake, because Google has finally created the definition of a game-changer.