Google just rolled out its latest social-networking effort on Tuesday. One day later, some are pointing out the dumbest thing about Google+, while others are describing it as like Facebook with no people. But could Google+ actually be a potent enterprise tool in disguise?
The Google+ social network looks somewhat like Facebook, with feeds of photos, messages, comments and updates from friends. There's a wide range of features, from Circles to Sparks to Mobile and beyond. Is it a Facebook killer? Brad Shimmin, an analyst at Current Analysis, can't speculate on that -- but he can speculate on enterprise applications for Google+.
"The consumer social-networking space is very fickle. I'm glad Google launched this project, not so much to compete with Facebook but more for its ability to compete within the enterprise," Shimmin said. "Given Google's history with these sorts of projects, it's inevitable that this will show up in the Google Apps Premier edition or Google Enterprise solutions."
Competing with Microsoft
Google Enterprise products work to make employees more productive by combining Google's consumer products with the features, security and support larger organizations demand. Products include Google Apps, Enterprise Search, Chromebooks, Earth & Maps, and Postini Services.
But one area Shimmin feels Google is lacking in its enterprise push is a collaboration concept that centers on event streaming and rich profiles. Buzz was limited to Gmail and wasn't built on a unifying experience, he said, but Google+ is a unifying experience, and Google could thread it across Apps.
"Whether Google will take this into the enterprise or not, I don't know," Shimmin said. "If they do, it would give them the ability to compete head-to-head with current enterprise collaboration players, like IBM and Microsoft and Jive, who have a strong sense of social networking."
What About Facebook?
Shimmin isn't suggesting that Google+ can't also compete on the consumer front, but there's nothing stopping Facebook from copying some of what he sees as the new social network's most compelling features, like Circles.
"The Circles feature lets you do a better job of managing who you speak to when you make an event stream posting. Instead of shouting out to everyone on your friends list or even segregate between friends and family -- which is how you can do it now on Facebook -- you can refine it more," Shimmin said. "You can select coworkers and coworkers I meet with after work to drink a pint. Obviously, the communications between the two are going to be radically different."
Shimmin expects consumers disenchanted with Facebook to give Google+ a spin. He sees the project as a good opportunity to make a ding in Facebook's user base. But he said success in social networking isn't formulaic.
"When we are talking about social networks, it's really not a question about building the best software at the best price that gets you the win," Shimmin said. "It's some very strange conflagration of happenstance, chance, events and strangeness that go into success. Think of what a different place Facebook would be right now if it didn't have Farmville or Mafia Wars. Perhaps it wouldn't be the leader it is today. Who knows?"