Google took the more useful bits of Facebook and Twitter, added a couple clever things and came up with a Facebook/Twitter for grown-ups.
After you activate Buzz on your gmail account, it will automatically “connect” you to anybody with whom you have a chat or you exchange some volume of mail. Posts are received in gmail, so it is completely integrated with mail and the other apps. Any post becomes a conversation, or a thread, when people post comments to it. Whenever someone makes a comment on a post that you are following, it goes back up to the top of the list (clever). It is, however, not like Google Wave because you cannot edit someone else’s post, only respond to it. I think that’s fine, it is not supposed to replace wikis, and it is equally suited to twitter-style one line posts or long conversations that can contain multiple media and span several days or months.
The most powerful feature, for me, is a sophisticated filter, like the one that filters spam in gmail. It allows you to stop following a thread without blocking a poster. You teach it what you want to see and what you don’t, and it will rate the posts on how relevant they should be to you. I think the net result will be that it will cut down a lot of noise and let the signal come through. At Google’s introduction of Buzz, someone (I think it was Bradley Horowitz) said that they were more concerned with productivity than friends, and I think it shows in the features and it will help a lot in the enterprise. I find it nice that I can specify that I am interested in someone’s posts when they talk about certain topics, but I don’t really want to be interrupted to read what they are having for breakfast.
It also has a fairly simple but effective privacy control, which appears to have been done in reaction to the blunders of Facebook. Google can monetize the information they will gather from the traffic without having to resell it to advertisers, so they can run circles around Facebook. There are still some potential issues, however, in particular in the way that it can establish connections automatically and make them visible without the user necessarily realizing it.
Currently it is only rolled out on gmail, but they made a strong commitment to have it available for enterprise Google Apps domains very quickly. I think it will be very successful there, because a lot of IT departments and old school managers are concerned about Facebook-like social networks, and will attempt to restrict them. Google Buzz will be coming through mail, so it will not be perceived in the same way – or blocked. I think the product will evolve by combining Google Voice, then Google Wave into it. It is probably what they intended to do all along, but they decided to come out with Buzz before they had the time to complete the integration, because they felt they needed to announce their presence in this field. And I think they are going to make a big dent in Facebook and Twitter over time. It will not be good news for people like Socialtext or SocialWok either (update: socialwok will synchronize his conversation feed with Buzz, good news). Of course, as part of the collaborative suite, it will also move the bar higher for Microsoft and IBM, and show that they have a hard time keeping up with today’s pace of software development.
In the short term, it will have less impact because it is only available on gmail, but also because the UI is still a little rough. I am sure they will fix all that in the next few months and that it will really take off in the enterprise.