There is much to like about Google's new Buzz social network, but is it really a "Facebook killer" as some predict? Ultimately, users will decide, and to help we've collected five things to love about Buzz and five reasons Facebook may prevail.
The big issue: Do you need another social network, or are two networks one too many?
For business users, there is a related issue, and that involves wanting to be where your customers are and the value of keeping them in one place. Facebook business users may want to root for Buzz to fail.
I am a Buzz skeptic, but not immune to the service's considerable appeal. It may turn out that Buzz is better for business social networking than Facebook, especially once it becomes part of the paid Google Apps Premier Edition suite.
There is also something to be said for separating business and social networks across two different and non-connected services. That works in Google's favor.
Buzz's reliance on Gmail is both a blessing and a curse, effectively limiting membership in Google's network in a way Facebook doesn't require. I can use Facebook with any email client I choose, while Google tries to make that choice for me.
Having played with Buzz for a bit more than a day, and based on a much longer relationship with Facebook, I've assembled some Pros and Cons for users to consider when thinking about Buzz.
- Buzz, on day one, is a better and more elegant service than Facebook has become after six years. Some of this is because Facebook had to create its network from scratch and pioneered the category, giving it a lot of baggage to overcome at this point. Google, meanwhile, has the advantage of building atop Gmail and being able to appropriate good ideas from both Facebook and Twitter. I call this "second mover advantage."
- Google Buzz is simple, elegant, and pretty fast. Buzz makes it easy to include photos and other media in posts, which is a win over Facebook. Google does not have the habit of making major changes just as users become comfortable with the previous changes. Facebook seems adrift, Google doesn't.
- Google privacy beats Facebook privacy. Despite #1 below, Google generally gets good marks for protecting user data. Facebook has had a series of privacy blowups that have created considerable user distrust.
- Buzz works inside Gmail. Having social networking integrated into an application most people live in, email, makes it a more natural part of communicating, not a separate online destination and process. The Gmail users in your contact list are the basis of your community.
- Buzz creates relationships automatically, which results in a social network that includes more of your existing friends, provided they use Gmail. Making networks automatically has pluses and minuses, but seems like a user benefit.
- Unless you make changes, Buzz might make public the names of Gmail users you most often trade email with. This is part of the process by which Buzz sets up automatic following for Buzz users. Google seems to not have Buzz privacy quite nailed down, which may be a reason to wait before using it.
- Most of my Facebook contacts are not Gmail users and aren't likely to become Gmail users. That makes it unlikely they will ever become Buzz contacts and represents what may be the Achilles' heel of Google's new baby. Building Buzz atop Gmail is both genius and potential folly. Google needs an alternative, more Facebook-like user interface to offer users.
- Do users really need or want a new social network? Facebook has become most people's default choice for social networking, making it easier to find old friends and business contacts. Do I really want to post everything twice in order for all my friends to see it? That may be reason enough to hope for Buzz's quick demise.
- Social gaming has really caught on and Facebook is its headquarters. Buzz does not do this, but certainly could. Internet maven Jason Calacanis, a Buzz fan, says adding games to Buzz could seal what he sees as Facebook's sad fate. Other people appreciate that Buzz isn't as "noisy" as Facebook has become, thanks to applications-related posts.
- Buzz can clog your email. Maybe email and social networks should be separate.
Facebook and Buzz are different animals. The difference in using a web-based "destination" user interface and interacting from inside a mail client is quite significant. Buzz simply feels different than Facebook and will mesh with particular applications and users in different ways. My feeling is that Buzz is more about connecting with small groups or individuals while Facebook makes users part of a much larger community.
Mostly, I think we need a better Facebook, both as a service and the company behind the service, rather than a Facebook replacement. However, if Facebook continues its user alienation program of aggravating changes, its users now have a new place go. Buzz could potentially shatter Facebook's hold on its 400 million members, because of things Facebook does.
The biggest difference between the two, ultimately, may be simple: One social network comes from a widely admired and respected company and the other comes from Facebook, which never quite seems to get anything right, yet has attracted some 400,000 million members.
That suggests Facebook is in more trouble that we, or it, may know.