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.