A little friendly competition never hurt anyone…right?  Try telling that to Facebook.

On Tuesday, Google, the Internet behemoth, introduced its take on social networking with a new service called Google Buzz.  The service is built within the Gmail system, and provides Gmail users with a venue to share updates, photos and videos with the fellow Gmail community.

With 176 million users currently on Gmail, Google definitely has a large market base already in place.  But can it compete against Facebook and Twitter as another social networking go-to?

Well, like everything Google does, Buzz definitely makes it simple to get started and try it out.  When you sign into your Gmail account, Buzz automatically pulls a selected group of people that you communicate with most frequently in Gmail and Google Chat.  From there, you can post status updates, share photos and videos and even share messages from Twitter.  You can use Buzz on your cell phone, and receive emails about updates and activity.  Sounds familiar, huh?

A bit short of revolutionary, Buzz seems to be pulling the Facebook card, mimicking its features verbatim and not really rocking the social networking boat.

So what’s the draw then?

Well, according to Google bigwigs, there’s a big one.  They believe that Buzz simplifies the fury of information clouding the web and makes social networking clear as day.

As Bradley Horowitz, VP of product development at Google told The New York Times, “The stream of messages has become a torrent.  We think this has become a Google-scale problem.”

Like Adderol for the over-stimulated child, Buzz tunnels social networking into a more focused system that, according to Sergey Brin, a Google co-founder, bridges the gap between work and leisure, making the social world that much more of a sensible place.

It differentiates its system from others by the basis of relevancy: Google applies algorithms to help people find the information that’s most relevant to them – pulls the social stuff they really want (based on their stats) and drops it right into their mailboxes, delivering a made-to-order social meal to their doorstep.

This ready-made group of friends and information was supposed to be Google’s Valentine’s Day gift to users, a quick way to make a fast, sugar-coated start on Buzz and take the hassle of building a network of friends off your social network-laden backs.

But it didn’t exactly work out that way.

Their plan back-fired, and critics are now actually furious about this feature, calling it an invasion of privacy because the company faulted to ask user permission before sharing a person’s Buzz contacts with the rest of the Gmail community.

It is true…no one signed up for the service; Google just went ahead and nicely forced its users to join (and subsequently worship its praises).

And to make matters worse, for some unlucky souls, where email was always a safe haven of secrets, Buzz is now airing their dirty laundry, splaying private information and connections all over their Gmail homepage and the homepages of those closest to them.

Google has vowed to adjust this misstep, and promises that a long list of improvements are in the works.

But the question must be asked: Was Buzz a quick, “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” fix to get Google’s name in the social network service ring?  It kinda seems that way.   It makes sense that Google wants to make a foray into social networking (they have the credentials and the web know-how) but Buzz may not have been the best answer.

So how is Facebook handling all this?

Just having celebrated its sixth birthday last week, the party is over at Facebook, and it’s time to get serious.  This week, they are reportedly getting ready to launch an upgraded real-time chat capability, by incorporating the popular AIM service, the classic instant messaging service from AOL, into the site.  AIM users will be able to log into Facebook from AIM to see which friends are online and available to chat, making it that much easier to stalk – er, connect – with friends.

So it seems Facebook isn’t too worried about Buzz clinching any of its popularity.  With a newly acquired milestone of 400 million members checked off its list of accomplishments, Facebook is still plowing a strong, steady path toward digital longevity.

As Ethan Beard, director of the Facebook developer network (and former Google exec) told the NY Times, “We don’t aspire to be just a website where people connect and share with friends.  We want to be the underlying technology people use to connect with friends wherever they are on the web.”

Touché, Facebook, touché.