Blog post

Is Google Getting Serious About Enterprise Social Networks?

By Larry Cannell | August 21, 2013 | 1 Comment

Over the weekend Google announced that its Google+ Domains API was coming out of beta. The highlights of the changes brought about by this new API are detailed here. A new domain element has been added to messages posted on Google+. This element adds an access control layer that scopes the visibility of a post to within a domain, meaning the message is only available to people within an enterprise. In essence, these API changes enable Google’s social messaging infrastructure to provide the foundation for an enterprise social network (ESN). Practically speaking, however, it is still a stretch to call Google+ a private ESN (what most competitors provide). I would call Google+ a “public ESN.”

The fundamental disagreement I have with Google is their contention that users should be able to completely control the scope of their posted messages. In the Gartner report entitled “Google Apps in the Enterprise, a Status Check” Matt Cain wrote:

“Google acknowledges the need for enterprise controls, but it believes the decision to allow data outside the organization should reside with the user, rather than administrators.”

Although the new domain element makes restricting the scope easier for individuals to manage (before this, people would have to create their own circles or create a Google+ community to limit visibility), it will still be viewed by enterprises as too dangerous. They do not want to rely on training to keep people from inadvertently posting messages on public social networks.

To understand this point, let’s compare Google+ to Microsoft Yammer (a cloud-based, yet private ESN), as an example.

First, both Google+ and Yammer provide a single user profile that enables someone to login once and participate within multiple circles, groups or networks.The most notable difference between the two are how they approach public, inter-enterprise and private social network interactions:

  • The Google+ user starts by participating within the Google+ public social network. The scope of their interaction is narrowed by the visibility defined in their colleagues’ individual posts. This scope is specified by someone when creating a post and is defined in terms of domains and circles. This comes awfully close to being what most people consider an ESN. Thus, Google+ is a public ESN.
  • The Yammer user starts by participating within a private social network. They can interact with others outside of their enterprise within an external network (using their same login), if invited. External networks are inter-enterprise private social networks. However, Yammer has no public social network.

To be fair, the cultural norms around ESNs have not been fully established. Should ESNs be part of a public social network or should they be kept entirely private? Advocates for the public approach (i.e., Google) point to the ease in which people can exchange email today. However, this analogy falls short when you look beyond messaging and the resulting visibility of content. When I search my email messages the results do not show messages from other people’s mailboxes, even those within the same company. The open messaging paradigm presented in ESNs is a big enough cultural shift that fighting to keep networks within a public space is a losing battle (at least, for now).

Nevertheless, Google+ Domains API should concern other enterprise social network vendors. Google now has the infrastructure to support private ESNs (or they are getting really close). Should Google decide to make it appear that their customers’ ESNs are truly private, this could send tremors through the ESN market. Ultimately, this move by Google begs the question: Are these changes to Google+ a deliberate step towards Google becoming more competitive in enterprise software or are they simply interesting additions to an API?

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1 Comment

  • Larry,
    I agree with you, Google is setting up to be the next big player in the ESN. They are not there yet and their approach is again very different. I just had some meeting with the Google + API guys last week at the Open Social standards W3C workshop in San Francisco and we talked about some of these same topics.
    The Google circles are interesting, but will not fly for many large enterprises. The benefits of having a more publicly open ESN is interesting, but can only work in very specific cases like customer communities, support communities, marketing, etc.

    One of the biggest problems G+ has for me is the lack of unified newsfeed, where you can see, follow, and interact with all your corporate updates in one place. The new UI of G+ is not very user friendly and many prefer the Facebook UX more. Many corporate users are just not ready for it.

    Several large players in the ESN are concern that Google is entering the space where small and big companies still live in the email collaboration world. Google will have huge advantage due to their email market share and can once again up sale their Gmail business clients with ESN.

    I anticipate that Google ESN will continue to be a FREE offering to compete with Yammer, Chatter, and others, but will be enhanced and will become more useful soon.