Characterizing it as a “Fall Sweep,” Google said it is shuttering Google Buzz, the controversial social networking service and application program interface (API) toolset that works with Gmail, and focus instead on Google+.

Facing Off With Facebook

Google Buzz was meant to offer tight integration with one’s Gmail inbox, and offered the promise of not having to create a whole new set of friends from scratch (AKA Facebook.)  But as a social networking service, it walked a fine line between information access and privacy, and according to the US Federal Trade Commission, pushed the boundary out too far. Google was eventually hit by the FTC with a penalty and is subject to independent audits for the next twenty years.

Google’s motives were clear: To try to bring about “meaningful conversations” in the midst of status messages, tweets and update streams. It integrated the social service tightly with Gmail, in the belief that there was a “…big social network underlying Gmail,” it said in the blog post announcing the service back in February 2010.

The company focused on leveraging its giant Gmail customer base with a tightly integrated sharing experience with photos, videos and links, that offered not just private sharing but access to make things public.  The thought was to eliminate the need for a Facebook service, by having access to the social stream via the Gmail.

Google Buzz Mobile 

Google also added a mobile component to Buzz that was more than just a small screen version of the desktop experience. The service offered proximity or location data by tagging posts with geographical information, adding an extra dimension of context.  Google said it provided the answer to the question "where were you when you shared this?"

The trouble for Google Buzz came when private details were revealed, exposing a woman’s new work information and boyfriend to her contacts list that included an abusive ex-husband.  A lawsuit was eventually settled, and changes made to the privacy default settings in Buzz, but the damage was done, and Google is now subject to the 20 year privacy audit imposed by the FTC.

Learning Opportunities

Putting a good face on the situation, Google said, “Changing the world takes focus on the future, and honesty about the past. We learned a lot from products like Buzz, and are putting that learning to work every day in our vision for products like Google+. Our users expect great things from us; today’s announcements let us focus even more on giving them something truly awesome.”

Google said Buzz will be shuttered in a few weeks along with the Buzz API. So people won't be able to create new posts, Google said they will be able to view their existing content on their Google Profile, and download it using Google Takeout.

Also included in the Google Fall Sweep are Code Search, which was designed to help people search for open source code all over the web. It will be shut down along with the Code Search API on January 15, 2012.