Buzz was introduced by Google with much clamor on Feb 9, 2010. Since then, we have seen a lot of debate around it: Google stepping into the social media arena cannot go unnoticed. Many quickly saw Buzz as a Twitter killer, possibly a Facebook contender; others discounted it as an inconvenience in Gmail; and the rest waited to see how the drama would unroll.
After its introduction two weeks ago –an eternity in the fast paced world of social media– Buzz raised alarming privacy concerns, and it brought a strong pushback from users due to its noise level. Now that the dust somehow settled on these early issues (both were promptly fixed by Google), one is in a better position to assess Buzz’ impact.
Clearly, Buzz is not a threat to Facebook. The latter offers a fully integrated platform to share updates, pictures, videos, games, maps, etc, with a network built on family and friends. I do not see any reason why any of the 400 million Facebook users (133 million unique monthly visitors in the US) would suddenly switch to Buzz, a service tied to Gmail (with “only” 37 millions active users) and no significant additional feature.
So Buzz must be the Twitter-killer announced so many times, right? Buzz can leverage Gmail’s 37 million active users, and Google is a technology powerhouse (read: uptime, speed, ease-of-use, and feature set). This is to be contrasted with a hard-to-grasp active number of Twitter users (possibly as low as 15 millions, but strong of a renewed accelerated growth, hitting 73.5 million unique visitors in January). Also Twitter has not been the most consistent service, with downtimes and delayed tweets every other week.
Yet despite the claims, sheer user numbers, and Google’s technology steamroll, Buzz will not kill Twitter. Remember when LinkedIn introduced its status update two years ago? Then the game in town was to compare it to Facebook. Did LinkedIn’s status update impair Facebook, or even Twitter for that matter? Not a bit. Was that because Facebook and Twitter were so much better than LinkedIn? Not at all. The reason is that LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter have all different purposes, and therefore different usage models. One cannot replace fully one service with another.
For the same reason, Buzz will not obliterate Twitter. Twitter is a non-symmetric network used to access and broadcast information, to establish new connections, to chat, and to freely blab about anything (the later is an un-escapable side-effect of the social aspect…). Twitter users listen and tweet to an audience that has a very small overlap, if any, with their Gmail address books. Similarly, this audience is mostly disjoint from their Facebook friends. Thus unless one can convince family members, friends, acquaintances, and professional connections to all move to Gmail, Twitter users will keep using Twitter for its very purpose. That is not even considering how users consume tweets. I cannot imagine a serious Twitter user without a 3rd-party application to manage his tweet streams. Buzz has nothing like it, at least for now. And Twitter’s lightweight and open API has created one of the richest and most innovative ecosystem in social networks –the best is still to come.
Buzz will at best coexist with Twitter, at worst slowly get numb and lose its fashionable luster, like other attempts at capturing Twitter’s share. More likely it will fall somewhere in between these two extremes, because it will appeal to Gmail users unfamiliar with Twitter. That is, of course, if Facebook’s future email service does not pick up any momentum, and if Twitter does not bring innovations to its platform. Then you can guess what will be left of Gmail’s Buzz.