What Journalists Need to Know About Google Buzz

Google announced its new social media product, Buzz, on Tuesday. While still in the early stages of development, Buzz marries many tools Google has created over the years and could be significant to journalism.

Based on the YouTube video explanation, Buzz is kind of a Facebook-foursquare-Twitter-FriendFeed competitor, but could be much more than the sum of the Google products they're integrating with it, including Google Profiles, Google Gmail (its Contact list gets integrated automatically), Google Picasa photos (it can also incorporate feeds from other multimedia tools such as Flickr and YouTube), Google Voice & Talk (SMS and voice posting capabilities have high utility in this tool for status updates) and Google Wave (real-time updating, commenting, sharing and collaboration tools).

For those in the journalism business, here are the most interesting applications and implications I see, especially for breaking news and mobile advertising.

Google Latitude
On its own, Google's live GPS location tracking tool is not very impressive, but with an active audience of participants through Gmail Contacts, this technology makes Google Buzz much more interesting and relevant, especially if those participants are contacts you know.

Google Maps
Much like Latitude, the integration of Maps makes Buzz unique, and at this very early stage, it was the most interesting experience because it visually displays what we're used to seeing in long linear lists on Twitter and Facebook.

Going through your local map and seeing what people in your very near proximity (down to the city block level) say was a different experience. While Twitter and other social media apps have moved into the geo-location arena, this is the best, live implementation I've seen of a real-time geotagged social media experience.With detailed user profiles, their social network and precise location, Google could do what futurists have been dreaming about: offer relevant, interest-driven mobile advertising, geo-targeted down to the micro level.

I downloaded the updated Google Android Maps App on my Nexus One, booted up the Buzz layer on the map and the first Buzz status bubble I clicked on proclaimed, "Best strip club in St. Louis" from a Mr. Elia about a certain establishment in East St. Louis. There was also already a comment on the posting from a Mr. Roche, "Lol. Attach pictures"

Google finally brought the experience of the Internet to mobile phones. :)

But seriously, exploring what folks around the Post-Dispatch's downtown office (where I work) were talking about was somewhat fascinating. I couldn't help but feel like I was looking into the future, thinking about how this could be used in breaking news situations to reach people who are physically located near news events (as well as getting their contact info easily).

Google Search / Relevance algorithm
Google became king of the search business for developing superior algorithms that organize information and return relevant results. In the Google presentation announcing Buzz, the company said the social tool will use customized algorithms to learn your personal interests; users can also hide or approve of news and social content that interests them (like on Facebook).

Buzz could help filter and call out personally relevant information for you based on its knowledge of you, your network and your location information, so over time, it will understand your interests better. If its algorithm is effective, this could be what really differentiates Buzz from most social media news streams.

Google AdSense
Perhaps the most dangerous element for media organizations is the threat Google could pose taking their micro-payment and highly-targeted advertising model to the local level.

With detailed profiles of users' likes, dislikes, their social network and precise location, Google could do what futurists and journalism advertising techies have been dreaming about, but no one has really pulled off on a large scale yet -- offer relevant, interest-driven mobile advertising, geo-targeted down to the micro level.

So you and your friends could be bee-bopping down the street after a late night out dancing and the local pizza joint a block away could target you (and everyone in a three-block radius) to come down for a hot slice of pie, half off if you mention the mobile Buzz ad.

Google didn't explicitly speak of this example at Tuesday's presentation, but did say there's an "Enterprise" version of Buzz coming out which could offer very valuable tools like this when paired with Google's stockade of applications.

Buzz is rolling out to Gmail users now and available in upgraded versions of the Google Maps mobile phone application as a new map layer.

The full launch presentation from Google is available here (56 minutes).

  • Will Sullivan

    Will Sullivan is the Interactive Director of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.


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