Google has been known to launch products (hello Wave) that get a lot of initial hype but end up being curiosities at best in the hands of users. This is not to diminish the areas in which Google still holds strong - search and e-mail. So the unveiling of their new Buzz tool for Gmail users is being met with skepticism in some quarters even as it seems to hold out several promising features. Here's the YouTube video from Google that discusses the product's features.
Buzz is designed to allow Gmail users to tap into social media activity and updates from their existing social contacts, without leaving the popular e-mail platform.
What struck me about Buzz is that it is the connective membrane between several Google initiatives. It's geolocation feature which allows users to tag updates with their location ties together Google's push into mobile with mail, and the Buzz overlay brings in Google Maps functionality so you can see, for instance, folks posting about bad traffic ahead. It even ties into Google voice by allowing users to speak updates into their phones rather than typing them (soon to be a menace to drunk updaters and their contacts everywhere if it takes off.)
Whether or not you use a mobile device, Buzz also ties in Google's profiles since so far you need to have one to use Buzz. Here is Google's YouTube video that talks about Buzz and mobile platforms.
Google's photo sharing site Picasa and the Google Reader news feed are tied in with easy sharing functionality, as is their YouTube service and all of this benefits from the design and tools first shown in their wave product.
So how does the core Google search product factor in?
Buzz will recommend posts based on your interests or on what's been popular with your friends whether or not the post is from someone you are connected with. The ability to do this is clearly developed from both the algorithms used to match relevant search advertising with user queries on the engine as well as to display ads contextually in the Gmail platform based on the content of mail.
Even though Google Buzz allows users to share updates privately with friends, it also allows these updates to be public and presumably, available to be read and displayed by anyone using Google search provided they are relevant. This ties in nicely to Google's recent launch of their Google Social Search tool.
It will be interesting to see how Google aggregates all of their data on an individual user once they are signed into the system, and whether this will have a further effect on the results they see in search as well as Buzz.
It's too early to know yet whether the possibilities inherent in Buzz will come to full fruition. Right now your Twitter updates can be shared with your Buzz followers. Oddly, as Mashable points out, you can't share Buzz updates (yet) through Twitter so functionality is somewhat hobbled. More importantly, Facebook isn't integrated at all and for most Americans there isn't really another comparable social network.
While I expect Twitter to become more fully integrated Facebook has shown a traditional reluctance to open up access to their platform on a similar level. As Mashable also points out, the existence of Facebook's own under-development e-mail platform complicates things further.
Whether or not this means that a showdown with Facebook is in the cards, if Google can deliver fully on what this product taps into - namely almost every other Google product - it could have a value beyond even the sum of it's parts.