What Google learned from its Buzz 'stumble'

By Stacy Cowley, tech editor


SAN FRANCISCO (CNNMoney.com) -- Google Buzz "stumbled out of the gate" -- a misstep that went on to shape Google's approach to social networking, Google executive Bradley Horowitz said Tuesday.

"There was a lot we learned in the first 48 hours putting the product to market, and there's a lot we've learned since," Horowitz said during a panel discussion at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. "There's opportunities that have emerged from what we've learned that have allowed us to rethink the social strategy."

Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) launched its Buzz messaging tool in February, and suffered an immediate backlash from users upset about the feature's slipshod privacy tools. Google quickly tweaked some of the settings, but Buzz hasn't caught on in the crowded social-media field; it's a "me too" effort with few distinguishing features.

Google's recent social-media efforts have been more incremental. The company snapped up a string of startups last month, but it doesn't plan to assemble them into one monolithic "Facebook killer" effort. Instead it plans to gradually integrate social-networking features throughout its entire product catalogue, adding a "social layer" to its offerings.

"It's going to be a journey for Google to get to the right place in social," said Horowitz, who heads product management for many of Google's key applications, including Gmail, Blogger and Google Voice.

His comments came shortly after a speech from Google CEO Eric Schmidt mapping out his company's view of the technology-powered future. The smartphone is "the defining and iconic device of our time," he said. "Your strategy should be mobile first."

Google's effort to stake out a vanguard position are going much more smoothly in that field than they are in the social world. There are now 200,000 Android phones sold each day, and search traffic from those phones has more than tripled in the first half of 2010, Schmidt said.

The Google CEO managed to turn a few heads when he sketched a utopian vision of all the ways technology can improve lives by handling the tasks machines are better at than humans. Scoot over, auto fans -- Schmidt thinks computers would do a better job behind the wheel than distractible, accident-prone humans.

"Your car should drive itself. It just makes sense," Schmidt said. "It's a bug that cars were invented before computers." To top of page

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