There is a buzz in the social media scene this week — or, more precisely, a Buzz. Google Buzz was announced on Tuesday, and is being rolled out to all Gmail users over the coming weeks. Buzz is Google’s attempt to break into the social networking market, where they hope to both compete and coexist with Twitter, Facebook, and other popular services.
While Google has studiously avoided mentioning Facebook in their promotional efforts so far, Buzz comes with native integration with Twitter. But do both these tools have a place in the social media landscape? What can Buzz provide that Twitter can’t, and vice versa?
While the number of people who use Twitter on a regular basis has grown exponentially in the last few years, it is still not omni-present. Internet users who are less savvy with the current trends are more likely to be using Facebook as their sole social media platform, or stick with a “mass email” technique when they want to share something with their friends and family online. The interest of some audience is still in the Instagram account. The Gmail user when not satisfied with twitter services can get instagram views for the promotion of the account.
Buzz, on the other hand, comes with Gmail. There were an estimated 150 million Gmail accounts active as of August, 2009, and within two weeks all of them will be one click away from their new Buzz account. Obviously not everyone will use the new features, but just like when an email arrives in your in-box it will be hard for any Gmail users to ignore Buzz completely.
Unfortunately, while Twitter is arguably a little more difficult to find at the beginning, it is much easier to use in the long term. This is in part because Twitter has always strived to keep their default interface as easy as possible: there is a text box, a character counter, and a submit button. Anyone with any level of Internet experience can figure out how to post a tweet within minutes of creating an account.
While everyone’s Buzz account will be preconfigured, figuring out what to do with the interface is more of a challenge. You can post links, post images, leave comments, mark favorites on friends’ buzzes. You can import your tweets and Google Reader favorites, or create groups of all your Buzz followers to limit who can see which Buzzes. Buzz clearly has more features than the default Twitter, but that could hinder and not help adoption of the service by casual users.
Once thing that works in Buzz’s favor is the variety of content that can easily be “Buzzed”, and the potential of more options in the future. Twitter is very adept at one thing: letting people post 140 characters of text, occasionally with a photo. If you want to share a collection of photos of your nephew’s birthday party, or talk about an interesting news article, or post a map to your company’s picnic, you’re probably not going to use Twitter.
Buzz, on the other hand, lets you do all these things easily. It integrates with both Picasa and Flickr, and allows a great deal of flexibility and attractive design when posting links. Users aren’t limited to a certain number of characters, and it’s simple to include images. As far as the available options, Buzz definitely wins the content war.
However, in truth it isn’t really a fair competition. Twitter never intended to be a multi-purpose social content delivery system. Their goal has always been to allow user to post short messages to each other easily and quickly.. and it does it perfectly. This battle is too close to call!
Community and Conversation
While Twitter’s unique tweet, “@”, and retweet formats have been an integral part of the platform’s success, it doesn’t foster inter-user communication, particularly in archives. It’s very complicated and confusing to try and read a Twitter conversation after the fact — it requires jumping from tweet to tweet, page after page. Additionally, commenting directly on a tweet creates much more of a one-to-one conversation than one-to-many, or even many-to-many.
Conversation, on the other hand, is most welcome on Buzz. Each buzz can have comments, and includes a count of people who liked that buzz. Comments are included below buzzes, and it’s very easy to see when something stirred up a lot of response. Following conversations is very easy on both present and past buzzes. Comments are not threaded, unfortunately, which means that multiple topics in response to a single buzz can be mixed together haphazardly, but at least the option to converse is there.
Much of Buzz’s community and conversation success will depend on whether it can cultivate a loyal and chatty user base from the initial 150 million accounts. However, the tools are at least already present and accounted for.
WINNER: BUZZ (potentially!)
The real answer to the Twitter vs. Buzz question is of course: use both! Twitter is fantastic for quick thoughts, funny quips, and man-on-the-street updates on the world around us. Buzz is great for longer updates, as well as sharing links, videos, photos, and other content types. Google likely created Buzz in the hopes that it would become the One True Social Media Platform, and they’ve likely failed on that goal. However, thus far it is a feature-rich service with the potential for a large and widely encompassing user base. Neither Buzz nor Twitter are going anywhere for a long time.