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Google Buzz: Good for Snoops, Bad for Social Networking

Google Buzz finally showed up on my Gmail account and I've had a chance to try it. Although it seems like a Yahoo Mail knock-off meant to give Google relevance in the social networking sphere, I think that's deceptive. Both companies have figured out that if you can't beat the big social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), you can at least pretend to compete. Along the way, consumers willingly deliver oodles of personal information that can be used for behavioral marketing. If Buzz is Google's attempt to be relevant in social networking, it's an incomplete and inept try. The service supposedly lets people update others on what they're doing. However, it only offers connections to a handful of services, including its own Blogger, Picasa, and YouTube, Yahoo's Flickr, and Twitter. Buzz completely misses Facebook, MySpace, WordPress, deviantART, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Yelp, among others. It's like saying that you want to be at the center of people's automobile repair needs, but you only offer Ford and Chrysler parts. Even for the services it supports, there doesn't appear to be any way to send updates to any of them, which makes the idea of using Buzz to manage your social networking a joke. So why bother with Buzz?

It's not as though piling data feeds into email distribution and profile updates turns a company into a social networking powerhouse. Yahoo was moving in this direction last August. Today you can get automatic updates from contacts, including Twitter and Yahoo profile changes. It sounds just like Buzz, only it came out first and didn't attract as much attention. Simply, Google hasn't done anything innovative.

Then what's the point? Aside from executive ego and the perceived need to "do" social networking, if either Google or Yahoo can get some people to try their update alerts -- and then forget to turn them off -- both companies stand to acquire a constantly refreshed stream of behavioral information for ad targeting.

I don't see either company getting far with these poorly-executed efforts. Unless Google or Yahoo creates a real hub where users can really manage all their posts to all their social networks, people won't take either service seriously. But then again, perhaps that's not really the goal.

Image: Joe Howell