Co.Design

The Real Strength of Google Buzz? It's a Giant Collaborative Sandbox

google buzz

Three weeks ago, Bradley Horowitz, Google's VP of Product Marketing, made it clear that Google is open to providing access to Buzz as a separate product as well as keeping it integrated with Gmail. It's a shame Google failed royally at locking down privacy concerns prior to getting this product launched. Now they have to make product development decisions that react to bad PR rather than working to deliver an integrated Buzz to strengthen their overall social Web position. And no bones about it: Gmail, Buzz, and Wave are critical to Google's ability to get its foot in the social Web world.

For those of us who have lived under a rock the past few months: Google Buzz is a feature within Gmail that allows users to update statuses, upload photos, and have a Twitter/Facebook-like experience in Gmail. Wave is Google's very interesting product for real-time communication. And Gmail...well, you better know that.

Put aside for a moment the very valid privacy issues with Buzz's introduction to Google's suite of products. Let's instead start by taking a look at how Google describes Buzz:

"Go beyond status messages. Share updates, photos, videos, and more. Start conversations about the things you find interesting."

This sounds pretty social and collaborative to me. And it also starts to blur the lines of where one product starts and the other ends. Combine what we learn from Buzz interactions with Wave and we may start to see an interesting testing cycle.

googlewave

According to ComScore, Google has over 100 million Gmail users who can potentially answer a question I've heard many times, "How can I use Wave as e-mail?" I understand Wave is not an e-mail tool but your average user doesn't, and your average user also doesn't care about the nuances between the two. They use e-mail. Buzz provides a foray into answering how expanded forms of collaboration and functionality could work in an e-mail setting.

Some would look at Buzz as a direct competitor to Facebook. I see Buzz as one of the largest usability collaboration sandboxes in the world. And to aid Google's ability to learn from the Buzz audience of users, there are some design similarities between Buzz and Wave that will make comparison, measurement, and improvement much easier. This consistency can:

  • Help the Wave team understand how to unveil Wave to a larger audience beyond invitation-only (if they are looking to do this)
  • Slowly introduce the more sophisticated interface choices into Buzz as a preliminary testing ground for Wave
  • Extend Buzz usage learnings to Gmail and Wave to strengthen those interfaces.
  • And further into the future, combine Gmail and Wave and fully integrate Buzz capabilities
  • Redefine social Web on Google's terms, not Facebook's

Ultimately we can all debate the value of Gmail, Buzz, Wave or even Facebook and the 37signals project management software Basecamp. In my view, each is a tool that allows for collaboration. Google has tried its hand at social Web. They can't "out-Facebook" Facebook with Buzz. However, with Buzz and its insanely large audience and focus on collaboration, Google now has a pretty big sandbox from which they can start to redefine the social Web altogether.

Read Giovanni Calabro's blog Design Pragmatist
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GiovanniCalabro has over 13 years of experience leading interactive research and design efforts for a wide range of business sectors. At Siteworx, Giovanni leads the design team responsible for user experience strategy, brand analysis, search engine optimization (SEO), search and analytics integration and social media strategy. With clients as diverse as MTV Networks, USATODAY.com, NPR, and JPMorgan Chase, Giovanni provides expert strategy and advice in the areas of stakeholder and staff alignment and new publishing models for emerging platforms such as social media and mobile channels.

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