Google Buzz, the Big G's newest and shiniest tool, launched last week to a huge amount of sturm und drang. What is Buzz? It's a lot of things, all shoved neatly into Gmail and leveraged with every ounce of power that Google could give it. If you've logged into your Gmail account in the last week, you've see a pop-up announcing Buzz, and asking if you were interested. Want to know what you're in for? Here's the very, very general idea.
Buzz is a combination of a few different existing ideas. The first is the concept of the "status update" or microblogging service, a la Twitter or Facebook. The second is the idea of conversation, as Buzz threads your discussions, instead of isolating replies like Twitter. This means that posts and replies are presented as a single thread, similar (very, very similar) to FriendFeed.
The third thing that Buzz gives you is that these posts and replies are all geolocated, tied to a specific place in the world. If you access Buzz from your mobile phone, it will use the built in GPS to locate you and geotag any updates you might send from your phone. It also aggregates the Buzzes for a given location, allowing you to see what people are talking about by literally clicking around on a Google Map. This put it firmly in the realm of both geolocated communication services like Foursquare and Gowalla and location-based review services like Yelp.
In launching Buzz, Google did several very smart things, and one very, very dumb thing. The smart thing was that they tied it to Gmail, their most popular service next to search, and they used the information they already had about your email habits to pre-populate Buzz with contacts. This eliminates the lack-of-network issue that users encounter when they first sign on to a social network--who do I talk to? The dumb thing they did was pre-populate with contacts and give effectively no privacy controls to their users in the first 24 hours of the launch. This caused quite a lot of issues when it was discovered that your Buzz account showed up on your Google Profile page, complete with your followers list, which included all your followers email addresses. To Google's credit, they fixed the issue within a day, giving both old and new users finely grained privacy controls.
So why should libraries pay attention? For a few reasons, not the least of which is that unlike Twitter, Google Buzz is being built using open standards, and the API that Google has already provided is more flexible and open than any of the current market leaders in this space. Libraries should always be interested in interacting with and supporting open communication standards online. Google has also announced that Buzz is going to be integrated into Google Apps for Education, which many schools, colleges, and universities are already using for students.
Google is positioning Buzz to be a one-stop microblogging platform, allowing posting from Buzz to outside services, as well as using Buzz as an aggregation tool to collect posts from other services. This may be the beginning of a true collapse of the current social silos that we have, where there is little interoperability between systems. The current microblogging/status update situation is much like the early days of email, when you couldn't email someone who happened to be on another service provider. I know that it's hard to believe now, but at one point if you were on Prodigy, you just couldn't email someone on AOL or Compuserve...they just didn't talk to each other. This is comprable to Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed and more today. Buzz might be the first step towards a short-form asychronous-but-immediate standard for delivery of messages across these services.