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Google launched Buzz 13 days ago, and after spending some time getting to know it better, I wanted to write a quick introduction for people who are still wondering (a) how it works, (b) how it’s different from other social media platforms and (c) why they might want to use it.

In everyone’s favorite list format, here are the answers to those questions:

  1. Google Buzz works in the following way: you access your Google Buzz account through Gmail, and the service allows you to post “updates” which have no character limitation.  Your posts can include rich media like pictures and videos.  Gmail has over 200 million users, which means that the scope of Google Buzz is huge, because each Gmail user was given a default Buzz account along with followers from among their email contacts.  As you post updates, the people in your Buzz network can leave comments, register a “like,” or send you a message.

  2. Unlike Twitter, which has one feed that shows everything you say (whether you’re writing your own original post, or commenting about someone else’s post), Google Buzz let’s you comment on someone else’s feed without using your own feed to do it.  This means you can have conversations with thousands of people, while only updating your own feed at your own pace.

  3. Unlike Twitter, there are no follow limits on Google Buzz.  This means you can follow thousands of people, and potentially earn lots of follow backs.  Buzz can get away with this for two reasons: (1) 13 days is not long enough for spammers to flood the system with noise, and (2) it is not yet open to third party apps the way Twitter is, so every time someone follows someone else on Buzz, they physically need to follow them.  This places a natural limitation on the amount of following that can be done, which itself is a protection against spam that doesn’t exist on Twitter.

  4. On the same topic of follower numbers, unlike Twitter (or Posterous), you don’t need to display the names of the people who are following you OR the number of people who you are being followed by and are following.

  5. If you comment on someone else’s Buzz update, you’ll start getting updates in your inbox when other people comment on that thread.  This is jarring at first.  It makes it look like you actually have email in your inbox.  However, it appears that Google simply wants to bring these updates to your attention separately from all the other Buzz noise, because if you’ve commented on it you’ve highlighted its importance.  This feature will definitely annoy some people, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Google introduces filtering options.  Many people consider their inboxes to be sacred and don’t want non-email to fill it up.  However, this aspect of Buzz underscores the fact that Buzz is really an “email-based” social media tool, which is where it derives a lot of its uniqueness.  Even if the hype that is surrounding Buzz right now dies away, it may have strong staying power due to its email roots.

  6. So how is Google Buzz the same as Twitter and Facebook?  All three platforms occupy the same category: they are all outposts (to borrow Chris Brogan’s term).  This means that Buzz is a great place to meet new people, have new conversations, and to develop a new traffic stream to your primary web base, which should be a blog or a website that you use to deliver real value and host your most important work.

  7. So why would you want to use Google Buzz?  If you are interested in truly interacting with people, the features on Buzz are creating lots of rich interactions.  I have over 8,000 followers on Twitter, and far fewer followers on Buzz, but I can already see that my Buzz posts are generating as much or more engagement than my Twitter posts.  It is important to avoid fake success metrics like follower counts and fan lists when measuring success in online media.  It’s much better to look at the number of comments, clickthrough numbers, re-posts, “favorites,” “likes,” and links.  These measures are much harder to fake, and right now the features on Buzz (and its early adopter user-base) have made for the most engaged/engaging platform around.

  8. The final point I’d make about Buzz is that if you divide the world between Twitter and Facebook, you’d see Twitter as the best tool for “pushing” information to lots of people, and you’d see Facebook as the best tool for “pulling” information in from the people you choose to connect with.  In my opinion, the strength of Google Buzz is much more in its ability to let you “push” information out than pull it in, which makes it more of a threat to Twitter.  But it took more than 13 days to build Google Buzz, and it’ll take longer than 13 days to reach a final verdict on where the platform is headed.  I hope this was a useful early analysis for you.

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Will Marlow co-founded AlumniFidelity to help his clients reposition their fundraising to benefit from Web 2.0 technology and marketing techniques. He’s working with clients such as UVA, the College of William & Mary, the University of Oklahoma, Bowling Green State University, Randolph Macon College, and he loves nothing better than a thorny marketing challenge.  Read more about Will Marlow here, or email him at will@alumnifidelity.com.