The Simple Genius of Google Buzz


Google Buzz, the addition to Google Mail that lets users share thoughts, links, photos and more with their friends, is off to a big start: hitting 9 million posts and comments before the end of its third day. That comes out to 160,000 posts and comments an hour -- what Mashable (the blog world's social media Bible) calls a "staggering, staggering number."

But will it catch on? Does the world need another news-sharing device?

To be honest, my first instinct was skepticism. After all, I already have places to share my favorite links: Twitter, Facebook, emails, Gchat away messages and conversations. Why did I need another platform? Of course, that was a common reaction to Google chat as well. Most Gmail users at the time were already using instant message services like AIM. They didn't "need" another IM program. But the simple genius of Gchat was its location. The email window turned out to be the logical place to have real-time conversations because it was already a window dedicated to keeping in touch with friends and colleagues. And Gchat took off.

The simple genius of Google Buzz (if you're already a Gmail user) is also its location, directly under your inbox icon. This just makes sense. When users sign into Gmail they see two numbers in the top left corner: first, the number of unread emails, and second, the number of unread Buzz items. One number for the things other people want you to do, and one number for the things other people want you to read.

Much of the commentary on Buzz has focused on whether it "kills" Twitter or Facebook. I'm not ready to give the emperor's thumb down to either of those behemoths, but certainly Twitter has more to worry about. Facebook for me is still a pulsating yearbook first, photo album second and news sharer third. Twitter is a news sharer exclusively, and it's seen healthier days. Homepage traffic has flat-lined recently, and it's conceivable that -- given the now-famous statistic that more than half of Twitter registers have never tweeted -- we've entered a period of decelerated excitement about the product. Buzz, which can import Twitter feeds (along with Flickr and Google Reader), debuts with an audience of 150 million and growing. What's more, it's an audience that is sticking around, since I'm inclined to agree with Farhad Manjoo that it's the best mail service on the planet.

But eyes on the prize: What does this mean for advertising, which drives more than 90 percent of Google revenue? It's wise to think about Buzz in the framework of Google's ad strategy, which emphasizes the growing mobile market. Fundamentally, Buzz gives Google's ad robots a better sense of what you're reading, what you're interested in, and accordingly, what you'll buy. Justin from Mobile Marketing Watch has some interesting ideas:

In its demonstration of Buzz on Tuesday's unveiling, Google showcased so-called conversation "balloons" appearing on a smartphone's Google Maps screen. This location-based "buzz" lets a user's followers know where they are and what they're doing at all times, integrated heavily with Google maps. Imagine, if you will, an ad for a restaurant or a small boutique shop also popping up somewhere, either in the balloon or on the Maps screen itself, or perhaps a survey request from a nearby coffee shop, with the promise of a 10 percent discount on a latte if you fill in the form.

Great point. The unique opportunity in mobile advertising is in the adjective. Your audience is on-the-go, surrounded by shops and restaurants that want their money. Google Buzz won't necessarily be the keystone in that strategy, but it will help ad loalgarithms continue to nail down who Google customers are, and what they want to see -- and buy.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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