Google jumped in to the deep end of social networking with the launch of Google Buzz. The concept of integrating social networking with the traditional e-mail messaging platform is not a unique Google innovation, though. Microsoft has its own approach to combining messaging and social networking with social connectors for the upcoming Outlook 2010.
Google Buzz has had some mixed reviews. Its reception has been relatively favorable, although Google has already tweaked the service multiple times over the past week to address privacy concerns. There are other issues and some growing pains for Buzz to work through, but overall it seems that Google Buzz could achieve some success against Facebook and Twitter.
Privacy hiccups aside, my biggest issue with Buzz is the reliance on Gmail. If you use Gmail as your primary e-mail client, then Buzz is a natural extension of that application to incorporate your social networks–or at least your Google contacts and Twitter.
For me, though, Buzz adds complexity. I have a Gmail account, but I literally only use it as my login for other Google services. I don't ever send or receive e-mail using Gmail, and I never log in to the Gmail site. I rely on Outlook as my e-mail platform, so in order to use Buzz I have to open yet another window alongside Facebook and Twitter.
Google's approach is not the only solution, though. If the concept of integrating social networking streams with the default messaging platform seems familiar, it's because Microsoft announced a similar goal for Outlook 2010 last fall, using a new feature called social connectors.
Office 2010 isn't expected to be officially available until later this year, but the beta version of Outlook 2010 is currently available. At the bottom of the Reading Pane in Outlook, there is an expandable People Pane. Expanding the People Pane reveals a complete messaging and communications history for the given contact–e-mails, attachments, calendar events, activities, and status updates.
Granted, the Google Buzz approach is more social. You can see and interact with multiple participants in an ongoing thread directly from within Gmail. It provides an ability to write micro-blogging status updates without the 140-character limitation imposed by Twitter. Buzz turns your e-mail platform into a new social networking tool, while Outlook 2010 social connectors provide a means of efficiently managing your existing social networks.
The Google approach with Buzz can be overwhelming–inundating your inbox with a steady stream of comments and status updates. If you are not careful about managing the privacy of your comments and threads, you also risk exposing information to parties that you weren't even aware of. The Buzz posts are a lot like Twitter in that they are primarily public, but more organized than Twitter since they are presented as a message thread.
Google Buzz is limited, at least for now, to tying Google contacts and a single Twitter account into the Buzz network. Outlook 2010 social connectors are a more open platform. Microsoft has created a software development kit enabling programmers to create add-ins for Outlook to tie in any other network.
Feedback on Google Buzz thus far has many users complaining that the addition of Buzz to Gmail is a huge distraction. The Outlook 2010 social connectors approach seems much less chaotic, and much more functional from a business perspective.
The contact-centric approach taken by Microsoft enables you to quickly and easily view all content associated with a given user–including their recent Twitter tweets, Facebook status updates, or other social networking interactions–without overwhelming the Outlook inbox or dumping an avalanche of irrelevant communications on you.
We're still a few months away from the official launch of Office 2010, and there are no social connectors available just yet. But, Microsoft's approach seems much more efficient, and more promising for business professionals, especially for business users that already rely on Microsoft Outlook for e-mail, or who are interested in integrating social networks beyond Twitter.