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On Google Buzz

Buzz is going to be a much bigger deal than some folks think.

Already, I’ve noticed:

1. I am getting more followers per day than I’ve ever gotten on Twitter.

2. More responses and interaction with people who are reading articles I link to than in Twitter or Facebook.

All in just the first 48 hours of the service being open. These interactions are with “real” users, not the tech elites who gravitate to the latest shiny shiny.

There has been a lot of griping about Buzz by the tech cognoscenti.  A lot of the complaints are, frankly, purely ideological; from Apple supporters who now hate everything about Google, or folks just tired of Google and its dominance, or folks who are Twitter partisans. Others complain that Buzz is “me too” — too little, too late.

But I think they all miss the critical, and maybe essential, point that the kind of sharing enabled these past two years by Twitter and more lately Facebook/Friendfeed is a natural corollary to e-mail for many, many users. This was the excellent question asked by Mathew Ingraham the other day on Gigaom — is the binding to Gmail a strength or weakness?

From what I’ve seen so far, the tie-in with e-mail is clearly a strength. Maybe even a killer blow. For many people, e-mail is their true social graph (thus the ubiquitous e-mail import functions supported by Facebook, Twitter, etc). For many people, e-mail is still the primary way to share links and photos and videos with their friends (we see this in the data every day at Vodpod). For these people, a service like Buzz is a simple, understandable on-ramp to status updates and link-photo-video sharing with friends.

No messy address book import — your Buzz network is there from the start.

No separate client or window — it’s adjacent to your inbox.

No character limits, opaque communication methods (@ replies, short links, etc) — posting with Buzz is just like writing a message in Gmail.

There is the subtle, intuitive sense that what you’re doing with Buzz is writing a “public” e-mail. For those immersed in Twitter the past 3-4 years, no big deal. But for the many, many hundreds of millions who never got on Twitter, or never posted if they did, I suspect this will be a more familiar and comfortable construct.

My friend and colleague spencer noted the other day that as soon Google Talk was bolted into Gmail, ICQ/AIM was toast for him and his friends. A reminder that e-mail is still the great white whale of the Internet.

How this all plays out for Facebook and Twitter I don’t know. My gut tells me Twitter has a lot to be worried about — mainly because their service has never really been embraced by mainstream users, and certainly not to the extent the hype would suggest. I think folks who tried Twitter, but never really got it, will embrace Google Buzz. And if they do, expect an exodus of power users (who generate the bulk of Twitter’s activity) to move with them (perhaps reluctantly).

For now, Buzz probably is less of a threat to Facebook. The big thing Buzz provides that FB doesn’t is asymmetric following (which to me is a big deal, not sure if it will be to most people). I suspect Buzz is mostly a defensive move by Google vis-a-vis Facebook, with the expectation that Facebook will try to encroach on Gmail in the coming months.

Buzz is, to be sure, an immature product. It definitely has flaws, and we just don’t know if Google views this as a core effort internally, or an experiment.  But if they really focus, make improvements regularly and listen to complaints, and make this a central effort, it will have a big impact. Maybe bigger than we can imagine just yet.

You’d really be a fool to write this off.

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