Google Buzz Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Users can richly format status updates ; Strong integration with Google Maps for mobile ; Easy to update from your phone ; Multiple platform support

The Cons

Twitter updates don't appear in Buzz immediately ; Users can't promote Buzz updates they like ; Can't prioritize order of conversations

Verdict

It doesn't hold a candle to Twitter or Facebook on the desktop, but Google's ambitious social networking service makes it easy to share thoughts with friends while you're on the go.

Buzz, a social network that lives inside your Gmail inbox, borrows elements from Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp, letting users post status updates as well as photos and videos. The service also tightly integrates with certain mobile platforms--especially Android, natch--so that when you post on the go, your phone can determine your location and attach it to your updates. Mobile users can also post about locations on a map (say, reviews about a restaurant). Should Buzz catch on, over time points of interest on Google Maps will look something like pages from Yelp and other local search sites. While we think Buzz is a convenient way of posting updates and reviews on the go, we don't recommend ditching Faceboor or Twitter for it on the desktop.

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Desktop

On the desktop side, at least, Google Buzz lives inside your Gmail inbox, and it's free for anyone who has a Gmail account. To make your updates visible to anyone on the Internet and not just your Buzz contacts (the equivalent of a public tweet), you'll need to create a Google Profile, a page on which you can post links to Google services, such as your YouTube and Picasa pages. Note that anyone can see this profile if they search for you on the web. When Buzz first launched, it automatically followed 40 frequent contacts for you. Now, you can choose who to follow.

To its credit, Google has made Buzz more private over time, often in response to user complaints. In fact, Google recently apologized for its lapse in privacy considerations when Buzz first launched. When users signed into Buzz for the first time after this announcement, they were greeted with a full-page invitation to review their privacy settings, in layman's terms. These settings include a list of their followers, another list of the people they're following, and other options, including one to hide their list of contacts on their Google profile. This was designed, in part, to give people who automatically followed 40 people a chance to review their list of virtual friends.

If just your Gmail contacts seems like a limited audience, not to worry: you can connect your Buzz account with your Twitter and Facebook accounts so that any updates you post on those sites will appear in your Buzz contacts' feeds. That means you can have a presence on Buzz without disrupting or adding to your existing social networking routine. One caveat: we found that even when we linked our Twitter and Buzz accounts, our tweets didn't show up on Buzz immediately. Also, it only works one way: things you Buzz about won't show up in your other social networking accounts.

As a social networking service, Buzz has more features than Twitter; that's both good and bad. We like that you can format text, adding flourishes like italics, and weave in YouTube videos and Picasa photo albums. Buzz also steals a page from Facebook's playbook, allowing you to "like" a status update by clicking a thumbs-up sign next to it.

And yet, Buzz misses the mark in just as many ways. Like Gmail, Buzz conversations appear in chronological order, with ones that have recent replies floating at the top (fortunately, you can permanently hide an irritating conversation). And every time someone responds to your Buzz, you get an e-mail alert in your inbox. Some might find this convenient; others--like us--prefer receiving Twitter mentions in a place distinct from our e-mail inbox. There's also no way to share buzzes you enjoyed, the equivalent of retweeting.

Mobile

On the mobile side, though, Buzz is more satisfying. For starters, iPhone and Android users (version 2.0 and higher) can go to Google's mobile home page and find a shortcut for buzzing in the upper right hand corner; just tap it and a text entry field will pop up. In effect, if you have one of these phones, there's no need for a dedicated Buzz app because it's built into the browser.

By default, Google attaches your location to these mobile updates, but you can easily turn this feature off. We preferred not to include our location, not just because of privacy concerns, but because it wasn't often relevant to the thoughts we were sharing from the road.

iPhone and Android users (2.0 and higher) can also speak their updates by going to the Google Mobile App (iPhone) or to Android's quick search widget and saying "post buzz." Just be sure to follow with the text of your update immediately. For example, in one breath we said, "Post buzz I would like some ice cream." The resulting update was mostly accurate. It read: "I would like ice cream." If you don't say your status update right after saying "post buzz," your phone will do a Google search for "post buzz."

Location comes into play when you buzz from Google Maps. If you have an Android 1.6, iPhone, Nokia S60, or Windows Mobile phone, you can post buzzes to a location once you find it on Google Maps. So, buzz comments about a restaurant or bar can serve a similar purpose as reviews on a site like Yelp. That's useful when people choose to write reviews. Often, however, you'll find plenty of superfluous comments, such as, "The line is long today!" This can be frustrating, especially since buzzes are arranged chronologically, and not necessarily in terms of relevance or based on what other users found useful.

Verdict

On the desktop, we would skip Buzz for now and stick with Twitter when it comes to posting updates, at least until Google makes more refinements. When you're on the road, though, Buzz makes it particularly easy to post updates and accomplishes something Twitter doesn't, allowing your updates to double as reviews of restaurants and other local businesses. Bottom line: it's absolutely worth a try.

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