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Google Buzz: What is it good for?

By Pete Cashmore, Special to CNN
Pete Cashmore says Google Buzz is most useful when you need answers or suggestions.
Pete Cashmore says Google Buzz is most useful when you need answers or suggestions.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mashable's Pete Cashmore: What's the usefulness of Google Buzz?
  • Buzz got off to a rocky start because of concerns about privacy
  • Cashmore: Buzz is most useful when you need answers or suggestions
  • It's a place for inquiry, for learning and collaboration
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Editor's note: Pete Cashmore is founder and CEO of Mashable, a popular blog about social media. He is writing a weekly column about social networking and tech for CNN.com.

(CNN) -- Google Buzz, the search engine's latest foray into the social networking realm, hasn't been out of the tech headlines since its launch last week.

Initial excitement around the product's debut soon gave way to privacy concerns. Later, Google's moves to fix these issues became the focus.

Now the conversation is moving toward more practical matters: Do we really need another social network? With Facebook and Twitter leading the pack, what value does Google Buzz add?

Difficult Beginnings

Buzz got off to a rocky start. New users were automatically connected to those they emailed frequently on Gmail, and those connections were displayed publicly. Doctors expressed concerns about revealing their patient lists; lawyers were concerned about exposing their clients.

Google worked furiously to address the issue, and this feature was replaced with an option to manually select friends. But even if Google is able to build greater trust in the new service, where does Buzz fit into our digital lives?

Facebook: The Local Bar

Facebook's role, by contrast, is clear: It's about connecting to real-world friends in a feature-packed environment. Photo-sharing, status updates, chat, messaging, video-sharing, event planning, birthday reminders and interest groups offer innumerous ways to interact with friends.

With every social feature under one roof, why go elsewhere? Web users concur: This week Facebook's unique visitor count surpassed Yahoo! in the United States, according to analytics firm Compete.com, putting the social network in second place. Only Google outranks it.

Twitter: The Town Square

Twitter's rise, however, exposed a chink in Facebook's armor: the social network's private nature doesn't foster public conversations. Facebook built a closed world that offered no value outside of your immediate social circle. This made it of limited value to self-promoting celebrities, big brands and news outlets.

The site had become somewhat bloated, too. An ever-expanding feature list is not conducive to simplicity. Twitter provided a simple platform for those with a message to spread, and a public forum in which to mull the news of the day. Many have continued to use it for its initial purpose, too: Answering the question "What are you doing?"

If Facebook is the local bar, then Twitter is the town square.

Defining Buzz

So what is Google Buzz? Technically, the service provides public or private status updates within Gmail. Its dynamics are wildly different to Twitter's, however:

Everyone contributing to a thread is notified of new replies, meaning the emergent conversation can become more important than the initial posting. Popular postings often spawn hundreds of replies within a matter of hours. Buzz replies don't include faces, either: it's a less personal experience where ideas trump personalities.

While Twitter is ideal for public messaging and Facebook for managing your personal life, Buzz proves most useful when you're in search of answers. Post a question and your friends will weigh in with suggestions, tips and ideas. It's a place for inquiry, for learning and collaboration.

Unsure how to characterize Buzz, I did what came naturally. I asked my Buzz followers for their thoughts. "The campus," replied Vicki. That sounds about right.

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