We learned earlier this morning that Google Buzz adds a shared social experience — very similar to FriendFeed and Facebook — to your Google contact circle via Gmail. Google also made it very clear that the mobile component, especially around location, is important to the product as a whole.
Location plays a big role in Buzz — we saw this with the introduction of the snap, Google’s answer to the check-in.
That one key feature demonstrates how right we were when we predicted late last year that “everything points towards Google taking big leaps on the location front in 2010,” and that “Google is interested in further assimilating the Latitude and Place Pages products into a more full-fledged location and recommendation service centered around places.”
The assimilation is Google Buzz for Mobile, and the ambitious endeavor is Google’s attempt to catch up to the likes of Foursquare, centralize the location-sharing experience around Place Pages and collect valuable place data. Here we’ll explore Google’s second attempt at getting the location-sharing formula right, and what it means in terms of the bigger picture.
Mobile Feature Run-Down
The mobile experience supports all the following features and functionalities:
Menu: From the Menu page you can search, select Following and Nearby stream options, navigate to My Posts, and view who you’re following as well as who is following you.
Snap to a location: Google Buzz’s version of the place check-in is a snap-to-location feature that lets you associate your physical location in place form with a buzz/status update.
Buzz: The “Share what you’re thinking” buzz box is located atop the My Posts, Following and Nearby tabs, and it’s the quickest possible route to snapping your location.
Once you start typing your buzz update, you’ll notice that a location is automatically associated with that post. If that location is inaccurate, you’ll want to click the light blue box and select the appropriate location from the list of nearby options. At the very bottom, you can also specify if the post is public or private. Once you select a post mode, your buzz is snapped to that location, and shared with Google Buzz users that are following you.
Replies: Right now the autocomplete reply feature supported in Google Buzz via Gmail doesn’t exactly carry over to the Google Buzz for Mobile experience, which means you won’t currently be able to type official replies from your mobile device just yet. You can, however, view replies as they were intended. Also, clicking on the associated user URL will direct you to the mobile version of the user’s Google Profile.
Streams: In the mobile application you have two stream types: Following and Nearby. Both are straightforward stream options.
Buzz Maps: In the Nearby stream, you can click “Buzz map” to view nearby buzz on a map.
Buzz Threads: Any item in your Following or Nearby streams has the potential to become a thread featuring comments and likes. You can moderate comments to your individual Buzz posts. What’s especially interesting about threads is that your check-ins, a.k.a. snaps, can become interactive conversations. That functionality doesn’t exist in location-sharing apps like Foursquare.
Buzz Permalinks: Each individual buzz and its associated conversation has a permalink, which means you can share individual items. If they’re public, anyone can comment on or like shared buzz items.
Place Pages: Every place in Buzz for Mobile is associated with a Google Place Page. Navigating to the Place Pages is a tad complicated at times, but there are a few ways to do it. If you’ve snapped to a location, you can select “Show map” from the specific buzz and click the link for the location. In the Nearby stream view, once you select a location, you can click “More info” to navigate to the Place Page.
Search: You can search all Buzz updates from the people you follow or just those nearby by selecting the search icon.
Is it Foursquare Re-imagined?
The answer to that question is not a simple yes or no, but Google was clearly inspired by the check-in model that Foursquare made popular. Here we will focus on the primary differences between the two approaches.
Snaps are conversations, check-ins are sport: Google’s approach is conversation-oriented. To snap to a location you need to post a buzz, and that buzz becomes the beginning of a potential conversation with friends. There are no points, no leaderboards, no mayorships and no rewards, but that doesn’t mean those elements won’t be added into the mix in the future. Buzz updates snapped to a location will also appear on Place Pages, which will expose them to a much wider audience.
Location-based deals are place-specific, but not tied to snaps: One of Foursquare’s finer features are the official location-based specials and mayor deals offered by businesses to Foursquare users that check in at their locale. While business owners have the ability to create mobile coupons for their Place Pages and promote them, the idea of snapping to a location and discovering nearby deals doesn’t seem to exist.
Place buzz and chatter: Lately we’ve seen Foursquare become a hub of curated content via its media partnerships, which bring in content from respected restaurant review sites (like Zagat), city tourism offices, reality stars, celebrities and fictional characters to serve as a dynamic and pocket-friendly city guide that travels with you. Right now, Google’s not attempting to separate the venue-related chatter from buzz updates that are meant to be recommendations or tips. Buzz for a particular place is mix of all location-shares and could be perceived as lacking the same value as Foursquare tips and to-dos. As a product that aims to reduce noise, this feature doesn’t deliver on that promise yet.
Place Page Significance
One way to look at the location features of Buzz for Mobile is to see as it another way to encourage business owners to claim their Place Pages. Google has been pushing Place Pages since their launch, and Buzz for Mobile extends the value of those pages. Now all Google Mobile and Gmail users are a few clicks away from Place Pages.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Google has finally found a way to support its own system for status updates and to tie those to physical locations in a potentially mainstream way. We’ve already seen that this data is incredibly valuable, especially to businesses and advertisers, and with every snap and its associated buzz, Google is learning more about what we’re doing and where we’re going.
Is Buzz for Mobile Too Ambitious?While there are advantages to using the location-sharing functionality of Buzz, the mobile application is bloated with features and will be a challenge for the average mobile user to grasp.
The mobile application is certainly a nice complement to the Gmail experience, providing a convenient way to follow along and contribute to conversations. As a location service, however, Buzz for Mobile is overly complex. For those of you who have latched on to the location-sharing trend, the advantages to transitioning your check-ins from more niche apps with built-in rewards to Buzz are nonexistent at present.