Google Buzz re-invents Gmail

When I first heard about Google Buzz, I was worried that I might be seeing the birth of another “me too” product. After all, everyone wants a piece of the Twitter halo. But with the release of Buzz today, you can see how Google has taken the social media lessons of Twitter and applied them to their own core products.

I’m especially fond of Gmail Buzz, which adds the power of asymmetric following to email.

AWESOME idea. There are many of us for whom email is still our core information console, and our most powerful and reliable vehicle for sharing ideas, links, pictures, and conversations with the people who constitute our real social network. But up till now, we could only share with explicitly specified individuals or groups. Now, we can post messages to be read by anyone. Sergey Brin said that Buzz gives the ability “to post a message without a ‘to’ line.” That’s exactly right – something that in retrospect is so brilliantly obvious that it will soon no doubt be emulated by every other cloud-based email system.

Buzz items can be shared directly in Gmail, but are also pulled in from other social sharing sites, including Twitter, Picasa, YouTube, and Flickr.

What’s particularly cool is that the people you “follow” are auto-generated for you out of your email-based social network. If you communicate with them, they are the seed for your buzz cloud. Over time, as you like or dislike buzz entries from that network, the buzz cloud adapts.

Google has also done a neat hack on the Twitter @name syntax, allowing you to prefix @ to an email address to have a message show up for sure in that user’s Gmail Inbox. Saying (or will put a message into foo’s Buzz cloud in the same way as saying @foo does on Twitter, but it will also show up in their Gmail Inbox, to make sure they see it. You can also make messages private to only named recipients or groups. (I love this – right now, I have two Twitter accounts, one for public sharing, and another for private sharing.)

I’ve always found it perplexing that vendors who manage pieces of our communications network for us – our email, IM, and phone – have failed to build social networking features into their products. Google is clearly now tackling that job, increasingly making its communication products into a powerful social media platform. Gmail already includes IM and some automatic social learning in the address book; adding Buzz makes it that much more powerful. And the fact that whatever you buzz is added to your Google profile (and immediately picked up in Google search) will turn those seemingly vestigial Google profiles into something that might just become the next generation personal home page.

You can begin to see where all this is going: the integration of Gmail, Buzz, Reader, Voice, Geo, Blogger, YouTube, Calendar, Contacts… Buzz is a game-changing first step, but when you think about where Google will take this over the next year it gets exciting…

There’s a real lesson here for anyone who wants to enter a crowded market: play to your strengths. Think through what job that hot new startup does for its users. Don’t copy what they look like. Apply what they’ve taught you to your own business.

There are real benefits to using email as a social media platform. Just about everyone knows how to use it. (Despite claims that young millenials look down on email, it’s just too useful to go away anytime soon.) It’s incredibly flexible – you can share anything you want, and comment on it at any length, from 140 characters to as many as it takes to get your point across. It has a global address space that allows you to find almost anyone, an address space that links people to content. It’s multi-platform, and accessible from anywhere.

In some ways, Gmail Buzz brings many of the benefits of Google Wave to Gmail. Every Buzz item can be turned into a conversation (much as in Wave or Friendfeed.) People can comment on your Buzz, comment on your comments, or @ reply you. Sure, it lacks the hyper-cool wiki-style shared editing features (though those perhaps could be added in a future release), but it also lacks the critical flaw that made Wave into more of a “concept car” than a real product: I don’t have to adopt a new tool or build a new social network. It just adds rich new capabilities into the tool and network that I already use.

Google has also done a terrific job of giving inline preview to links you share. This is especially awesome for photos and videos. The inline slideshows are terrific – actually better than you get in most native photo or video sharing apps. And I love that you can share a Flickr link as easily as you can share one from Picasa (bucking the trend of vendors to try to lock you in to their own services.) Google says it’s committed to Buzz being “the poster child for what it means to build an open, standards-compliant social product that serves the interests of users…” I’m looking forward to seeing more signs of this commitment as Buzz (and other Google products) evolve.

You can read more about the functionality behind Buzz at O’Reilly Answers: “Google Buzz: 5 Things You Need to Know.”

P.S. There’s also a great, related Buzz announcement for Mobile, which shows off Google’s platform thinking. On the mobile phone, Buzz is automatically “snapped” to your location, also using metrics like time of day to figure out the most relevant location (e.g. during the day you might be at Google, but if it’s nighttime, it may be more likely that you’re at the Shoreline Amphitheater across the street.) Buzz related to a location will show up on the relevant Google Placepage, and in a new geotagged Buzz layer on Google Maps. What we’re seeing is the application of algorithmic relevance to buzz – and the power of what I’ve long been calling “the internet operating system.”

P.P.S. Buzz will be rolled out starting at 11 pm today. Apparently, it will take 2-3 days to show up in every Gmail account; if you don’t have it right away, be patient.

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  • Steve Ardire

    yup I agree….
    Google Buzz looks great and will use immediately – probably eliminate sidewiki – and Google Wave still ? and needs work! 34 minutes ago from web

  • Mark Drapeau

    Great write-up Tim, thanks.

  • Farhan Memon

    Tim did you really announce this post. The event just ended. Either you were briefed before or you are really good and fast at writing a coherent post.

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Yes, I was pre-briefed. I don’t do “news” stories but companies do often show me pre-release stuff because they want my feedback on ideas and/or implementation, or on messaging.

  • David Semeria

    Google launches a new product and a thousand startups cry out in pain.

    I’m concerned about the long-term effects of Google’s free cash flow on the startup ecosystem.

    Are we all playing into Google’s hands?

  • Peter

    And think of all the myriad of additional spamming opportunities that Google Buzz will enable. I can hardly wait!

  • Christian Gruber

    Erm… let’s move this thread to a gmail buzz. ;-)

  • Luis Alejandro Masanti

    After all the Android hoopla it is nice to see Google innovating in its core business.

  • Paul Lopez

    Only problem is it requires gmail. You also can’t segment your contacts as far as crowd-sourcing or follower rules you’ve set up.

    Paul Lopez

  • Mark Sigal

    First off, I think that it’s great that Google is iterating Gmail, and actually improving a product versus rolling out yet another one-off.

    It does, though, beg the question: Is Gmail the new Wave, as I thought that Wave was destined to be the new Gmail?

    Similarly, wouldn’t Reader be better nested inside this buzzable Gmail than in it’s current wooden frame?

    In other words, Google has this somewhat head-achey culture of creating overlapping products (Buzz, Wave, Reader, Talk, Gmail, Chrome, Android) then giving cloudy guidance on where they’ll integrate, where they’ll silo and where they’ll make into a platform.

    Similarly, as a consumer, partner, developer, wouldn’t it be nice if they could just be clear where they are experimenting, where it’s a product and where it ties into with a larger vision.

    After all, between pivoting between labs, beta and NOT, they render these boundaries somewhat meaningless as demarcation lines, and generally risk teaching the market to only pay prolonged, serious attention when Google shows that THEY are paying prolonged serious attention to a given product, which doesn’t seem like a winning strategy for successful market innovation, IMHO.

    Food for thought.


  • paul

    Two interesting things happened today…I got fed up with facebook to the point i’m ready to quit, and I heard for the first time about buzz. But am I understanding that I need to have a gmail account? If so, that’s a deal breaker. I’m too invested with my old fashioned hotmail. I won’t switch.

  • Brandon

    @David Semeria: I haven’t read the licenses yet but being open & standards compliant I would think this would be extremely useful to startups. Gives a great code base to launch from.

    I am far more worried about Apples market share and user (fanatics?) base considering its proprietary software/hardware locking practices. Open and standards based is a great gift to the IT community.

    @Tim: Great post, enough information to peak my interest and start the wheels in my head spinning. Now I need to do more investigating…thans

  • Sai Bharadwaj

    Tim do you think its a threat to Facebook or Twitter? I’ve been hearing this news all over as I read more.

  • Laura Scott

    How smoothly for people do email (which pertains mostly to real-world life) and other social media (which are much more casual, topically based, arbitrary and at times practically anonymous) actually integrate? For some people, maybe very smoothly.

    But for me, they are different contacts silos with different use cases.

    Buzz’s integration with Gmail makes me pay attention (whereas I ignored the same features on MSN and Yahoo), but I’m still not sure that I’ll find it useful or helpful or just a PITA.

  • Megan

    Paul, I totally agree with what you said. It was exactly what I told my boyfriend after he excitedly informed me about buzz. You are my soulmate! :)

  • Anonymous

    I certainly hope they include an option for users to totally OPT-OUT of Buzz. When Microsoft contacted everyone in my address book to invite them to my Window Live Spaces without my permission was the day I ditched Hotmail.

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Anonymous – Google Buzz is opt-in. When you go to Gmail, you are asked if you want to try Buzz.

  • nazila alasti

    Now Apple has something to worry about…If Buzz is better with Androids, would I still stick with my iphone? And what does Apple have to do to keep me?

  • webonomics
  • Niko

    Interesting enough no mention of Yahoo at all, didn’t they claim to build an open social media platform?

  • Edd Dumbill

    What now frustrates me, which is very obvious if you follow Tim’s Buzz, is that the conversation is now fragmented once more. Tim would need to check Buzz *and* Twitter to find out responses to anything he posts.

    Have I missed anything here about how Buzz works? Do @-replies on Twitter get merged into a Buzz thread?

  • Ted

    The thing that really impresses me Tim is your ability to predict so well what you will like. No buyers remorse. If a product comes along that automates something you do, you know you will be happy with it. Not only that, everyone is like you, it seems — what you will like, we will like. How do you do it?

  • JJ

    Tim – you said it opt-in, but that certainly wasn’t the case on my account. I opened up my gmail at work, and all of a sudden I had followers and I was following 15 people. WTF!?

    I’d opt out if I could, for the time being, it looks like the only solution is to unfollow everyone that gmail signed me up for, remove the people following me, and try to ignore the giant logo right below my inbox.

  • Todd


  • zasma irani

    I don’t understand why it becomes such a big deal when Google adds a couple new features to its products.

    Google integrated IM functionality in gmail a couple years back, did that stop users from logging into other IMs or even signing up for other IMs?

    I don’t think these features are going to kill facebook or twitter….

    Twitter is a microchannel that we use to listen to others. They are not necessaily the people I have email exchange with. So, with Google buzz I am not going to stop logging into twitter….

    As for facebook, it is a fun platform with gazillions of apps and features on it. So, I don’t think buzz is going to kill facebook either.

    If anything, social networking features in gmail are a natural and logical improvements and are useful. but i don;t think it will make much of an impact on facebook, twitter.

  • HB0

    You can turn Buzz of luckily…
    at the bottom of the page,
    Google Mail view: standard | turn on chat | turn on buzz | older version | basic HTML Learn more

    It removes the buzz link/icon under your inbox- i also would suggest to unfollow things aswel.

  • Scott Sala

    My concern is that your “friends” are tied to actuall email addresses. In facebook, you found people initially through emails, but eventually 90% of them are just connecting. How can Buzz add new contacts without email addresses?

  • Dan

    This might be as good as Google News, or Ask Google or Google Wave. Oh Wait. Let’s look at revenue for Google. Where did it all come from. Text ads. They do it well.

  • Jimmy

    Much ado about nothing here. Not 1st to market technology (Yahoo already has this, and they point it at more than just mail). Plus with Gmail being only the #3 mail property this doesn’t really leverage the true power of Google.

  • Irwin

    Buzz starts to make sense/get scary when you look at it on your phone. The list of lunches getting nibbled on is growing rapidly: Yelp, Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed…

  • PB


    Wasn’t opt in for me. And per this

    if you already have a public Google profile, your top email contacts are revealed on it as of your account’s integration into Buzz. As I commented elsewhere, I dodged this by never having set up a public profile. And now I most certainly NEVER WILL.

    Did they learn nothing from the recent Facebook fiasco?

    Boo! My trust in Google drops another notch. Which is close to the motivation point for leaving their account-based products suite altogether.

  • Jeff Dickey

    Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but…

    If you have Twitter, and email, and a blog… what exactly does Buzz give you, besides the “opportunity” for Google to serve you and your fellows even more directly-targeted ads? Meh.

  • Samuel Sampi Kamffer

    I agree with @zasma irani.

    In addition to what he said. Why all the talk about it being a Facebook or Twitter “Killer”? I might be wrong here, but isn’t this a statement made by the press / users? Not sure if that was the intention in the first place (buzz to compete against FB and Twitter).

    I would like to see people discuss the different uses and the experience with the product as apposed to the continuous harping on about the competition side of things.

    It is just another digital tool, use it, don’t use it…

  • Aussiedude

    Great idea, should be useful.

    For people who use it, it’s another benefit of having a google account, with friends who use these services as well. If not, then it’s just a feature you can ignore. No point in complaining about it folks. :P

    And I think Google still wants to make Wave successful, but it’s just not out of preview yet, and still has a lot of maturing to do. The important thing for Google right now I think is to stop producing new products for a while and put a solid effort on integrating all their existing ones into one solid platform.

    If Google can work out a way of easily combining Gmail, Profiles, Youtube, Talk, Reader, Calendar, News, Wave, Docs, and now Buzz, their search engine ofcourse and everything else, all into one nice package, then they could very well have a killer platform for communication and collaboration.

    Most of these products on their own would struggle to get a market share, because you would need your friends to sign up to the products first.

    But Google is smart, and makes all their services connect to just one account.

    And with every new product that Google releases, a wave of giggly nerds jump into it, slowly increasing the number of people with Google accounts. Which slowly increases their user base.

    Having just one Google account for all the services is smart I reckon. By signing up for one, you’re instantly able to access all of them.

    So if a friend of someone is convinced to sign up to Google for Calendar, they will be able to use Wave as well instantly for instance. Giving each new product a instant marketshare boost. And making each new product increase the market share of Google’s other services.

    For Google, it’s really just a matter of, combing every one of their services into a nice tightly integrated package (which they aren’t right now I think. A little integrated right now, but not as tight as they could be), and just work on getting more users. Eventually the platform could take off and really become popular.

    I’d like to be able to just log into ‘Google’, and see everything I have for all my services. Like a summary of how many emails I have, or waves I need to read, or responses to youtube videos, or altered documents in Docs.

    Or Google to use their existing services for their other services. Like for instance, how about a Google Wave for each blog post, or youtube video, or any discussion based element on any of Google’s services.

    All these services are great, they just have to be rolled up into one package, and worked on together as a whole. Then this could be an unstoppable platform. But the way all the Google teams seem so distant from each other just makes each product seem like it exists on it’s own little island, making it seem like you’re signing up to a whole new thing just to try it out.

    If Google can get this fixed, they’ll be right. This does have potential. Who knows what might happen.

  • tomasio

    My thoughts on Google Buzz are more an association to the word they use ; )

  • Doug Johnson

    I think this may be a case of too much functionality and not enough usability. (My complete thoughts are in my blog,) Do you really want to share photos and video with your friends using a system that also contains your boss’ email address?

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Yes, I do. I pretty much live in public, though, and I don’t have a boss (besides my customers and other stakeholders in the issues I care about).

    I find it really useful to be able to see buzz from my real social network as expressed by my email, rather than the faux social network I’ve assembled on Facebook or Friendfeed.

    It’s a great new source of stuff that makes me smarter.

  • Perry

    exciting yes, but I think the average consumer user has already patterned to separate worlds of email and social interaction, no matter how “technically false” a delineation. Bringing users “back into a single interface” will be a real challenge that cool/useful features may not get past.

    Google’s still comes off as very stiff – being “functionally social” is not the same as being “effective in social interaction”.

    It will be VERY interesting to see how Facebook tackles a new mail interface, and how Twitter creates something more interesting out of their anemic DM experience.

  • Dee

    I hope Google doesa not destroy gmail in their zeal to introdue “BUZZ”. Since “BUZZ” is up I can only access gmail via IE or some other carrier. Whats UP?

  • PatHMV

    Tim, you’re way off on this. First, this wasn’t truly “opt-in,” as Google’s many subsequent rapid changes to their service make clear.

    Second, it’s WAY WAY WAY too tied to e-mail. E-mail is fundamentally a medium for private communication. It makes little sense to tie a social networking service so tightly to e-mail.

    Moreover, the manner in which Google foisted this on all of us, whether we wanted it or not (in reality) was a horrible breach of trust. It’s a HUGE, MASSIVE marketing blunder. I can’t now simply and quietly try it out, see if I like it, and then move in to becoming a full user… precisely because it’s tied so closely to my unique Google account and my gmail.

    HB0… clicking that “Remove Buzz” link at the bottom of gmail doesn’t do much beyond removing the label in your inbox. If you don’t delete your public profile, your information is still going to be out there.

  • Tim O'Reilly

    PatHMV –

    I don’t get your concern. Go look at my Google Profile and tell me what scary information is revealed there that isn’t revealed on any other social networking service. Who I’m following? You can see that on Twitter. Who’s following me? Ditto. What I’m posting? I’ve told it what to share.

    I get that there are some edge cases where people could be “outed” by Buzz, at least as it was initially rolled out, because it did some auto-following – but I went through within minutes and picked out the people I did and didn’t want. And it wasn’t because I was trying to hide anything.

    Frankly, I think the privacy hoo hah is overblown. And now that Google has changed it so you have to manually add people from a suggested list, it’s no different than any other social service – except that, unlike other social networks, it has a better suggested list for me because it knows who I communicate with (assuming I’m a regular gmail user.)

    Since I only use gmail for backup, it isn’t as useful for me as it might be. But that’s a big incentive for me to switch full time to Gmail (rather than avoid it) as I want the additional information about my own network that it provides.

    The irony of your comment seems to be that you haven’t actually tried Buzz and seen what information is revealed, and are just reacting to what you’ve read.

    Here’s my profile, in case you can find something alarming there that I can’t:

  • James

    I agree that this is probably one of the best “features” added to gmail. However at the same time it also presents a huge concern to many. Beside the privacy issues which have already been beaten to death.

    What about employers who fire their employees for using Facebook at work?

    I can’t recommend Gmail to professionals anymore. I used to think it was alright but after this move I can’t support them anymore. Gmail is not email anymore. It’s a social network.

  • Alexandre

    Funny how quickly Google Buzz’s “neat features” get overshadowed by the multiple issues associated with Google’s launch strategy.
    I personally don’t have anything against Buzz, but I have yet to find it truly exciting. Part of it is that I’m expecting something much more innovative. “Groundbreaking,” as some keep saying.
    But the way Buzz was pushed on everyone is more than a privacy problem. It seems to show a lack of critical thinking. It seems to be the result of groupthink by what Maggie Shiels calls “over-eager engineers” at Google.
    I’m really curious to know if there are social scientists on the team responsible for Google Buzz. In fact, it sounds like Google is simply too dismissive of the social sphere to really grok social media.
    Which doesn’t mean that Buzz won’t succeed. Just that it’s not a step in the direction of more clueful social media tools.

  • Tom Henderson
  • Tim O'Reilly

    Tom Henderson –

    That Macworld article says NOTHING that changes my opinion about Buzz. Not only that, I have yet to see a single documented instance of an actual privacy breach – this is all FUD about things that various people imagine might happen.

    Guess what: if you researched the privacy risks in a hundred applications that the same people complaining about Buzz use happily every day, I’ll bet you’d find Buzz nowhere near the top of the list.

    Please remember that people complained about the privacy implications of the Newsfeed when Facebook first introduced it. Now they can’t live without it.

    To me, Google’s big mistake was not putting these features into Buzz; it was not defending them more vigorously when media types (not real customers, btw, until they were prompted) started the fear campaign.

  • Tony Ash

    Reynhardt van Blommenstein is Hacking a Google G-mail e-mail accounts at will.He is employed by Millers Attorneys (George & Cape Town) – Western Cape to do so and getting paid for it – Lefevré Joubert – 083 447 1269 – +27 (0)44 874 1140 – van Blommenstein – Great Brakriver – Garden Route South AfricaMillers Attorneys (George & Cape Town) – Western CapeI have complained to Google, Millers Attorneys, Mweb, South African Police, Reynhardt van Blommenstein, Law Society of South Africa no joy.

  • A year or so on, and Google Buzz has quietly disappeared. Can’t blame Google for trying though. It’s all about trying and testing the market. Just because Google did it, they got ridiculed. If it was a smaller company, what would be the reaction I wonder…?