Source: Flickr user hsuanwei
Google last week took the wraps off Buzz, which — as if you haven’t heard — is the company’s latest play in its never-ending quest to be a player in the social-web space. The all-things-to-all-people effort combines elements of Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare, encouraging users to (among other things) tie their status updates to their physical location via their phone and access user recommendations or spark conversations with others. The problem, at least so far, is that there doesn’t seem to be much of an incentive for users to do so.
There’s a lot to like about Buzz for mobile, which, admittedly, I’ve only begun to play with. As this nifty video demonstrates, the app can automatically tag updates with the name of a nearby business or point of interest, or allow users to refine their whereabouts as they tell others what they’re thinking. It integrates Google maps to overlay users’ content on a map and to add physical perspective to users’ comments, and a “Nearby” option presents all the public discussion occurring within a few blocks of the user. And like many of Google’s mobile offerings, it leverages the voice recognition technology that will become key to navigating mobile apps and services in the next few years.
I appreciate Google’s goal of being a one-stop-shop in the world of mobile social networking. It’s lovely to envision a single place I can go to easily locate friends, update my status, discover new places and access reviews from fellow users, all with the help of Google Maps. And while each individual component may not outperform its direct competitors — you have to admit it’d be tough to out-Twitter Twitter, regardless of how pointless you may think it is — I can see where plenty of users would sacrifice a little performance to demolish some of their social web silos.
Where Buzz for mobile falls short, though, is in creating a fun experience that presents added value. Many people I know already have social web fatigue — they (and I) need a compelling reason to commit to another social network for on-the-go users. That’s why Foursquare is so compelling compared to Google Buzz: it not only makes the mobile social web simple and fun — which is why Om is such a fan — it also is working to bulk up its content offerings to add value to the user experience, as last week’s deals with high-profile content owners illlustrate.
And as Phil Hendrix notes in his new report for GigaOM Pro, combining simplicity with valuable content is key in the new world of location-based social apps on the phone. Foursquare awards mayoral crowns and badges to users based on their level of activity, and providing content from sources like Zagat offers an additional carrot. That value proposition encourages users to participate in the community by revealing their whereabouts and engaging with others.
“Disclosing your location to friends and associates, once a difficult proposition for consumers concerned about privacy, is becoming more commonplace,” Hendrix writes. “Yelp, Foursquare and other new social media apps have developed engaging, compelling experiences for their users.”
Google may be able to create that kind of experience through Buzz, which will surely improve over time. And the company’s sheer footprint ensures that there will be at least a fair amount of user-generated content. But competitors like Yelp, Foursquare and Gowalla already have momentum, and with every new member and content partner they give users another reason to stick around. Buzz for mobile certainly has the potential to kill a host of mobile-social offerings on the market. But until it gives users a better reason to switch, it isn’t going to see many converts.