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Google Buzz Challenges Facebook, Twitter

Moving to make social computing more relevant, Google sees its Buzz service as a way to make the world's tweets, status updates, and shared links more meaningful.

In what it describes as an effort to organize the world's social information, Google on Tuesday turned Gmail into a social communication hub by joining it with a new service called Google Buzz.

The company also updated its Google Mobile Web page and launched a Buzz Web app for iPhone and Android devices to make it easy to post Buzz updates and access Buzz posts from mobile phones.

Google Buzz looks a lot like a Facebook feed in Gmail clothing. It treats existing Gmail contacts as social network friends and allows the user to share Web links, pictures, videos, and other content with individuals or groups, both privately and publicly.

"The first thing you want to do when you see something exciting is you want to share it," said Bradley Horowitz, VP product marketing Google, at a media event at Google's corporate headquarters. "We think it shouldn't be so much work to find exactly the right audience for the content you want to share."

Social communication, Horowitz argues, has become a problem. "Increasingly it's becoming harder to find the signal in the noise," he said.

Google aims to deal with the social information explosion the same way that it has dealt with the information explosion on the Web, by helping users filter it and find the most relevant content.

Google is also aiming provide more value than social networks like Facebook by positioning social communication a productivity tool rather than an entertaining diversion. "I enjoy many social sites myself," said Horowitz, "but there are not many I find useful."

In keeping with that belief, Horowitz said that Google is working on an enterprise version of Buzz that will be available through Google Apps.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin echoed that point by noting how much more productive Buzz had made him. Bridging the worlds of social communication and productivity is very powerful, he said.

Asked whether Buzz represented a privacy threat, Google product manager Todd Jackson dismissed the possibility, noting that many privacy controls have been built into the service. "We've thought long and hard about this," he said.

If nothing else, Buzz represents a competitive threat to Facebook, which has largely denied Google access to its data in order challenge Google as a provider of online ads.

Google is positioning Buzz as an open service that will play nicely with other open sites and applications.

Google Buzz is now available but not widely. It will be rolled out across Google's servers over the next few days.

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