Google adds social networking features to Gmail
With Buzz launch, search giant takes aim at Facebook
SAN FRANCISCO - Google Inc. opened a new social hub in its e-mail service yesterday, leaving little doubt that the Internet search leader is girding for a face-off with Facebook.
The new Gmail channel, called Google Buzz, includes many of the features that have turned Facebook into the Web’s top spot for fraternizing with friends and family.
It comes less than a week after Facebook made changes of its own. Among other things, Facebook now shows a list of friends available for chatting on the left side of the page, similar to where Gmail now displays its chat feature.
The Google Buzz features won’t reach all of Gmail’s estimated 176 million users worldwide for several more days. A link to the service will appear on the top left of the page, in a prominent position just under Gmail’s inbox tab.
Like Facebook, Google Buzz will let users post updates about what they are doing or thinking and share those with the rest of the world or with only a select group of people.
Gmail users also will be able to track other people’s updates and instantly comment on them for everyone else in the social circle to see.
And, just like Facebook, Google Buzz can serve as a showcase for video, photos, and interesting Web links.
Google Buzz also shows similarities with Twitter, an online communications tool that broadcasts messages of up to 140 characters. A mobile phone application of Google Buzz is particularly Twitter-like: It allows people to see the public updates of other people in the same vicinity.
Some of Google Buzz’s features mirror social tools already available in instant-messaging services and other Web-based e-mail, including Yahoo Inc.’s and Microsoft Corp.’s. Google Chat, which is incorporated into Gmail, already has limited ability to display status updates.
Google launched a social network called Orkut six years ago, just a few weeks before Facebook began in a Harvard dorm room, but Orkut has gained little traction outside of Brazil. Meanwhile, Facebook has emerged as a cultural phenomenon with more than 400 million users worldwide.
Google cofounder Sergey Brin seemed confident that Google Buzz will enjoy broader success.
“Every couple years something new and revolutionary emerges, and thanks to the Internet it can really emerge very quickly and affect many people in a short period of time,’’ Brin said. “I certainly hope that trend will continue, and I hope we will make our own contribution with this set of capabilities.’’
Without mentioning Facebook specifically, other Google executives predicted the new service will do a better job of sifting through the clutter of personal updates to pull up the ones most likely to pique each user’s interest.
Facebook has become a more alluring marketing magnet as more people spend more time there. That status threatens to siphon revenue from Google, which makes virtually all of its money from advertising.
Facebook had little to say about Google Buzz yesterday.
“Generally, we’re supportive of technologies that help make the Web more social and the world more open and are interested to see how Google Buzz progresses over time,’’ the company said in a statement.