Is Google+ Ready For Business?

The Google+ experiment is expanding. I continue to receive a steady stream of invitations from colleagues. My experience so far has been so-so, not bad, but not the Facebook killer it's being touted as, either. The most interest I see is from business colleagues who see Google+ as way to create 'selective' social networks, primarily with peers. Google has given some indication that they will be enhancing the business experience later this year, though this seems geared more towards brand-customer interactions than colleague-colleague interactions. (See this post by Christian Oestlien for more details).

With a renewed interest in Google as a business service provider, the question remains as to whether Google can be a serious player. Can Google provide a viable (i.e. reliable and secure) business social network? It looks promising, but Google still has to provide clarity on the following points:

• Will Google offer service level agreements (SLAs) to entities willing to pay for its Google+ services?

• Will the Google APIs be stable and documented? I had a particularly bad experience demoing a product based on iGoogle a few years ago, on a day when Google suddenly changed their APIs. Ouch.

• Will Google commit to Google+ or will this be another Wave? Companies won't commit to a service that may be pulled at any moment.

• Who will own data posted on Google+, if it becomes a paid service? Or, more likely, will Google try to compete with Facebook and its ad model? If so, will companies sanction an ad-sponsored services, with the potential liability of inappropriate ads (Imagine employees being exposed to ads for things like "casual sex Friday" on a corporate social network.)

Assuming Google provides satisfactory answers to these questions, and the last question raises a big 'if,' Google+ stands a good chance of succeeding. What would that mean for other players in the enterprise social space?

Companies that offer enterprise social services are most at risk. A free Google+ service might provide enough value for many small to medium-sized companies. Next, vendors that offer enterprise SaaS business and operational applications could be squeezed, as companies may revisit Google Apps as an complementary technology to Google+ and Gmail. And if Google provides tight integration with Google Apps, even companies offering full business suites, like Microsoft and Oracle could see some serious competition, especially in the small to medium enterprise (SME) markets.

On the other hand, Google won't own the entire (virtual desktop). No one vendor will be able to own it all; which means the user experience will continue to be fragmented. Users will continue to toggle between applications and windows to do their jobs, and it will quite likely get worse. As it is, the NY Times last year estimated that the average business user switches computer windows 37 times an hour, which means, on average, we spend less that 2 minutes on any given page. This is why aggregation of the presentation of application interfaces will be a powerful trend. Bringing documents, social networks, status updates, unified communications, and business applications into a single user context is the most sensible way to deal with the information overload brought on by the deluge of new applications and services; Google+ and all the rest. Smart vendors will band together to provide a 'best of breed' user experience, albeit within a single window. And who knows, Google+ may just be that window.

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