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What Does Google Buzz Mean for Social Media?

Tuesday, 9 Feb 2010 | 2:22 PM ET

Google just announced "Google Buzz," what it calls a "Google way of sharing."

Google presents buzz as an addition to Gmail that enables private sharing with your friends (like Facebook) or public sharing with everyone (like Twitter). This builds on Gmail users address books and friend lists, allowing you to automatically follow your friends with a "buzz" tab by your inbox. It's not just about status updates; you can also share video, photos, and links.

Google calls the sharing "Rich" because when you post a link you also automatically post headlines and images. It's fast because you can use keyboard shortcuts to reply etc. A status update or link posted as part of Google Buzz can enable a conversation within one or many friends. And all this is within the Gmail platform, that had 176 million users as of December, compared to Facebook's 400 million users.

Google wants to incorporate all social interaction into Gmail. The idea is that building public and private conversations on top of traditional e-mail and IM, creates a richer communication experience. Instead of going to another site to follow you friends updates, you can get it all in what effectively is like a content feed, incorporating e-mails and status updates. Google is using its most sophisticated technology to filter updates by relevance. The ability for Google Buzz to filter based on GPS data in your phone of where you, and to include geo-tags of your friends' posts, is particularly cool.

This launch comes as rumors swirl that Facebook is working to turn its internal e-mail system into a real contender that competes with Gmail.

Everything is converging.

It makes sense to layer your social network on top of your e-mail system, or vice versa. The question is just which way that layering goes. From what I've heard so far, this seems like more of a rival to Facebook than Twitter, at least based on the way I use both social networks. Facebook lends itself to sharing with your friends while Twitter allows you to access and filter a global mass of information and broadcast out to the world. If this is built on top of your Gmail contacts, this seems like a way easily access what they're doing, thinking and reading without having to contact any one directly.

It's no surprise that Google is stepping up its social components.

Last summer I put together a five part series on social media, and interviewed Bradley Horowitz, VP of product management about Google's social strategy. He talked about how Google mail is inherently social — your contacts and relationships are all right there. Both Horowitz and Google CEO Eric Schmidt have talked to me about how incorporating social elements into search, can make results more relevant. Google Wave, a collaborative communication tool, draws on your contact list to make e-mail a joint experience. Google wants this also to apply to the enterprise -- Google will offer a product that companies can use to help employees better interact.

Schmidt has openly praised Twitter, pushing to incorporate Tweets into Google search results. There's been plenty of speculation that Google could buy Twitter, but now we'll see where Google Buzz leads.

I'm excited to try it out. The rollout to Gmail starts at 11 am Pacific on Tuesday and should reach all Gmail users over the next few days.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.