Posted by: nicolaosborne | February 22, 2010

What’s all the Buzz about?


Google Buzz, announced earlier this month (to much excitement) and has now rolled out to all GoogleMail users, is effectively an aggregation of online social activity from within your Googlemail inbox and shared through (public) Google profiles.

“Buzz” is essentially a way to access and a type of status update or short micro/blog posting (created either in Buzz or in a connected third party service) which can be geo tagged (with location automatically detected but manually correctable). The Googlemail Buzz interface is reminiscent of FriendFeed (albeit sitting within the email environment) with the “like”, comment, email (in place of “share”) functionality alongside those aggregated feeds of your own and friends’ activities. The mobile interface is a little different as it is based on use of a Buzz URL, the Google Mobile Maps app, and/or the mobile Google search interface.

To geotag material Buzz uses a blend of GPS and usage data to “snap” your location to a particular place. So if you manually correct your location Buzz will look for patterns like your choices at particular times of day, days of the week etc. to help it work out where you might, more specifically, be. So whilst you might usually be in your office when it is, say, daytime on week days you may be more likely to be visiting, say, a nearby shop or restaurant on weekends. Even if both of those places are extremely proximate Buzz will attempt to “snap” you to the right building/close location depending on the day, time, etc.

Obviously this raises challenging issues around personal data usage and security (particularly after significant scrutiny over default settings in Buzz, it is likely that Google will have/add more  transparent controls/toggles – as is already the case in Google Latitude) but this form of nuanced geotagging potentially offers some truly exciting possibilities for location based services and mashups.

At present Buzz uses the detailed mobile location data with geo tagged items in Google’s search and map databases – including the relatively new Google “Place Pages” – to enable contextual search results (including mapped results). The same location awareness enables the creation of public Buzz layers (e.g. restaurant reviews and “local buzz”) generated from publicly posted “Buzz” and presented in Google Maps for Mobile. Google is rolling out various APIs associatted with Buzz in the coming months (a handful are already available) that could thus offer interesting potential for combining functionality of existing web services and/or new tools, including all sorts of location based services, into web or native mobile apps.

The Buzz API(s) uses, amongst other standards, Pubsubhubbub (aka “hubbub”), an open pubsub protocol and open source reference implementation, which turns Atom & RSS (and potentially any other source of web content) into real-time feeds via Push (rather than Pull – as normally used by Atom and RSS) notifications, via a hub. With data coming in, already geocoded, from Buzz mobile users, plus support for pushing content out to Buzz in efficient real time, and built-in support for OAuth for authorising and combining identities and web services there is huge potential here for location based services capitalizing on sophisticated connections between data services, location and social spaces (whether that social space is Buzz itself or connected sites using the SocialGraph API). It seems fairly likely that Buzz will also, in some way, feed into Wave (if Wave is to be a long term prospect) since much of the functionality demonstrated at the Buzz launch resembled social functionality promised in Wave. The Buzz APIs should offer potential to hook geotagged and automatically aggregated information (say data from fieldwork) with richer applications – that are not perhaps as feasible with the small screen or processing power of even high end mobiles – that, perhaps, then run in Wave.

Buzz is already available in the normal mobile Google search interface and Google Maps App  (as well as via the new buzz.google.com mobile site) for Android and iPhones. More limited functionality is available for Nokia S60 and Windows Mobile (Blackberry will follow soon). There is already a Google Group for Buzz developers discussing current API releases and likely forthcoming functionality. Thus far documentation – for both users and developers – is sparse and the quality of mobile documentation particularly variable though this will surely change in the coming weeks.

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