Google Buzz has been designed as a single dashboard to help users deal with the often massive amount of information they receive through existing social networking sites.
Unfortunately, at this point Google Buzz has no links into Facebook, which puts Google in direct competition with the world's biggest social-networking site: and will immediately make the 'simpler-is-better' proposition a fallacy for Facebook's 400 million users.
To use Google Buzz, you must first have a Gmail account. (For the uninitiated, Gmail is known as Googlemail in the UK.)
Go to Google.com/buzz, and follow the simple instructions. At this point, you should get a 'Buzz' icon and link beneath the inbox link in the lefthand navigation of your webmail browser window. Right now it seems that not all users immediately get this tab, and it doesn't yet appear in our webmail unless we go into it via the Google Buzz homepage.
Google Buzz: go mobile
Users can also access Google Buzz via Google Apps on mobile phones. Simply surf on over to buzz.google.com on you phone, sign in and accept the user agreement. The Google Buzz iPhone app is little more than a shortcut to a Gmail page optimised for mobile, with Buzz added.
Like all the Google iPhone 'apps' this insists on booting another Safari browser window every time you go in. It's simple to add posts, however, which show your location (should you desire it to be so). You can also post direct from Google Maps.
Quite fun is the Buzz map, which lets you see who is Buzzing in your neighbourhood - kind of like an amalgam of Foursquare and Twitter (albeit with security risks entailed). This is a good way of finding fellow Buzzers in your area.
You can import posts from Twitter into Google Buzz, but in our tests this was taking a long time (over an hour and a half as of 10:49am on February 10). This is clearly not much good for Twitter users, used to almost immediate response. Of course, it's likely that at this early stage Google Buzz is simply feeling the strain, and things will speed up.
Google Buzz: why webmail?
Google says it opted to build Google Buzz into Gmail, because Gmail contacts lists are an underlying, existing social graph for users. This may not be the case for all users, however: how many of your social contacts are in your email contacts? In our early tests, the only people added were other people with Gmail accounts, almost none of whom are using Buzz right now. This probably reflects shoddy Gmail contacts keeping on our part, but when Gmail search is so good, how many people go to the trouble of slavishly adding contacts?
You can search for new friends to follow using their profile name or email address - this is an important distinction: your author's Google Profile name is 'Matt Egan', my Gmail address something altogether different. What happens when the other several hundred thousand Matt Egans start buzzing is anyone's guess.
The web and mobile interfaces for Google Buzz are remarkably similar to Twitter, or even Facebook status updates. You have an input field, with your Google Profile image or avatar grinning back at you. You can comment on other posts, 'Like' them or send an email to their posters.
Google Buzz: what makes it different?
Google Buzz posts create a Gmail-style conversation that gets updated in real time as friends add comments to it. Buzz also recommends posts from people who aren't necessarily on one's list of friends, based on certain "signals" that the content might be of interest. Likewise, it buries posts from friends that it determines are unlikely to appeal to the user.
How successful this is, it's impossible to say at this point. But Google's record on search is reasonably successful, to say the (very) least.
Buzz lets users include thumbnails when sharing web links, making them more graphic and attractive (according to Google). One way in which Google differentiates its service from Twitter is that Google Buzz also lets users attach various degrees of access to posts, from completely public, to limited to hand-picked friends.
Buzz will be rolled out over the coming days to all Gmail users. Later on, a version of Buzz will surface in Google Apps, the collaboration and communication suite for workplaces - as an instant communication and collaboration tool, this could be really interesting.
It's way too early to give the definitive verdict on Google Buzz. At first glance, it's a so-so Twitter clone with a bunch of glitches, and the look and feel of Gmail. The potential for success lies in its ability to set tailor-made privacy settings, interact with other Google social services and utilise search to point only useful or interesting information at users. We don't imagine too many Twitter users will be ditching their Tweets to exclusively Buzz today, but add better collaboration with Twitter and Facebook, and Google Buzz will get very interesting indeed. Watch this space.