Everybody's talking about Google Buzz. Most of that chatter is centered on how to use it, and whether it's better or worse than Twitter or Facebook. Almost all the talk is about using Buzz from a PC.
Now it's time to meet the other Google Buzz. For people with the latest iPhone or Android phone, Google Buzz will soon become an amazing, indispensable app -- and a glimpse into the future for all of us.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a piece in this space called "Google Quietly Changes the World Again." I pointed out that two new features rolled into the mobile version of Google Maps, called "Near me now" and "Explore right here," partially realized the long-held vision of "virtual graffiti." The idea is to post "invisible messages" in the air, which could be read by a cell phone if you're in that same location.
That's what the mobile version of Google Buzz does.
"Near me now" and "Explore right here" functionality is baked right into the mobile version of Buzz. That, combined with cell phone GPS capability and Twitter-like posting, is mobile magic.
A button just above the message area lists all the businesses nearby, also listed by proximity. You can choose the restaurant or store you're at, or choose the "best available location" option. That's powerful, because GPS is only approximate.
You can choose not to reveal your location at all or you can reveal your general location or specify exactly which building you're in, all with a click or two. To the best of my knowledge, it's not possible to exactly specify nonbusiness locations, such as your home. That's probably a good thing.
All that sounds vaguely similar to location features on Twitter, or location apps in Facebook. But those implementations are vastly inferior, and far less immediately usable.
More important, I believe Google Buzz will trigger a culture-changing "network effect." That's where a snowballing of usage occurs: The more people use a network, the more valuable it becomes; the more valuable it becomes, the more people use it -- just like, say, the Web, e-mail or cell phones.
Google Buzz on a PC is a closed experience in two ways: First, you need Gmail to fully experience it. Second, you get messages only from people you're following. With Google Buzz on a PC, you're blind to non-Gmail users, and also to everybody you're not following.
Google Buzz on a phone is the opposite: You don't need Gmail. And you can see the tweets of people whether you're following them or not. In the "Nearby" mode, you're automatically "following" whoever happens to be or has been near wherever it is you are. And they're following you. When you leave the area, you stop "following" them and start "following" the people near your new location.
The power of Google Buzz on a GPS-enabled cell phone is abstract, and it must be experienced to fully understand it. But until you do, let me tell you eight things you can do with Google Buzz on a compatible iPhone or Android device that can change your life:
1. Promote your business
Last year, one of the big stories on Twitter was food trucks selling cupcakes or Korean barbecue via tweets. Bakeries would tweet when fresh cookies were coming out of the oven. Small businesses of all kinds were first promoting their Twitter feeds, then using those feeds to promote time-sensitive information to customers.
Google Buzz can do the same thing, but with two very big differences. First, you don't need to know about the business in advance, and second you don't need to follow anyone. When you use Buzz to check what's going on in your location, you get the posts about it all -- cupcakes, Korean, cookies, you name it -- without following any of them and without any advanced knowledge or action.
If you own a small business that relies on foot traffic, embrace Buzz immediately. You can broadcast the availability of specials or sales. You can even use the real-time nature of Buzz to implement flex pricing. Too many loaves of bread, empty theater seats or other perishable items? Cut the price and broadcast the sale. People nearby will see it and come running. In addition to selling to existing customers, you'll win new ones.
2. Share your 'business card' at industry events
I believe my fellow tech pundits will truly "get" the power of mobile Buzz at the next major IT industry event. Here's what will happen: The early adopters will start an invisible, back-channel, ad-hoc social network during the show based only on GPS location. In other words, people won't need to know the URL for the official message board or chat room. They'll just use Buzz's "Nearby" mode, and everybody nearby will be a conference attendee.
People will introduce themselves to fellow attendees by broadcasting their Google Profiles page -- a kind of "business card exchange." A few speakers will draw crowds by promoting their presentations on Buzz. Attendees will arrange meet-ups. The people on Buzz will get more out of the conference.
At the IT industry conference after that one, nearly everyone will be using Buzz. From there, it will spread to non-tech conferences. Within a year, I think Buzz will become the de facto source of information and networking at all industry events.
3. Find a lost pet
Seen fluffy? If you staple a photo printout to a telephone pole, hardly anyone's going to see it. But if you post it on buzz with a picture, anyone within 10 miles can see it. Just post the picture online somewhere, e-mail the link to your phone, copy the link from e-mail and paste it into the post window in Google Buzz's "Nearby" mode. It becomes part of the public stream for your neighborhood. Same goes for ads about yard sales, bake sales and other suburban events.
4. Leave a note for future Buzz users in the same location
Let's say you go on a breathtaking hike in the woods, and discover a hidden waterfall. Why not post a message with Buzz that will be forever associated with that location. You can alert future hikers about how to find the waterfall.
5. Talk to your neighbors
Google Buzz by default creates a neighborhood chat room. By selecting the "Nearby" mode in a residential area, all messages will be those posted by neighbors. It's fuzzy, too. If someone on the edge of your neighborhood chimes in, someone else on the edge of her neighborhood might join the chat. Conversations could literally spread like a virus.
6. Read and write restaurant reviews
When you're in "Nearby" mode, you can select a drop-down menu of businesses. If you're standing in front of a restaurant, why just read the menu? Read the reviews. Or, if you've just finished a meal, you can quickly write your own review. In either case, tap the "More info" link next to the name of the establishment, which takes you to Google's info page on the place. The info page includes details about the restaurant, plus a place for customers to write reviews.
7. Talk to other people at a concert or other public event
If you're at a concert, in line for an Apple launch, attending a family reunion or at a Space Shuttle launch, you can take part in the Buzz conversation that will be going on. You might gain valuable intelligence (the location of a bathroom without a long line) or just have fun discussing the event with others.
8. Get help
Let's say you're visiting New York City, and find yourself with urgent logistical questions. "Which one is the real Original Ray's Pizza?" "How do I get from where I am to Brooklyn on the subway?" "Does anybody want to sell me an umbrella? I'll give you 20 bucks!" In a crowded place like New York, I expect you'd get instant answers from people physically located within 100 yards from where you are.
Those are just eight things I can imagine with Google Buzz on iPhone, Android and, later, no doubt, other phone platforms. What can you imagine? What will emerge that nobody can yet imagine? It's a new mobile world out there.
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