Google dove into the deep end of social networking this morning with the announcement of Google Buzz. In addition to providing a platform for users to share information, status updates, pictures, and videos with their social network, Google also wants enterprises to embrace Buzz as a business tool.
Google Buzz is an ambitious project for Google, but then Google doesn't ever seem to take on projects that don't challenge established rules and paradigms. Google also seems to be on a quest to dominate every facet of technology, and not at all content to leave the lucrative and exploding social networking market to the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
Google co-founder and president Sergey Brin explained how Google Buzz could provide value in an enterprise. He described a scenario he encountered while writing an op-ed article for the New York Times. Brin wanted to include a broader viewpoint than his own opinion, so he posted the draft article in Google Buzz and quickly generated 50 or more responses, enabling his social network to collaborate in real-time and compress the timeframe normally required for editing and feedback.
The ability to collaborate in real-time is an aspiration for many enterprise solutions. Unified communications platforms like Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 integrate with Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Live Meeting, and other tools to enable peers and partners to work together online in real-time. Google Docs also strives to deliver real-time collaboration, and Google recently acquired AppJet to redefine real-time updates and improve the responsiveness of Google Docs.
Google incorporated real-time Twitter results into searches on the Google Search Appliance back in December. Google product manager Cyrus Mistry stated "Social information is important for businesses: employees searching for information needed to do their jobs benefit from real-time news too. They might be developing a new breakfast cereal, or designing a marketing plan for a clothing line, or writing strategy report for a political campaign. In all of these cases, understanding what is being said just as Twitter users are saying it can be invaluable."
One hiccup facing Google in delivering an integrated social networking experience as a business tool is that many of the popular consumer products do not work with Google Apps Premier Edition. Users on Google Apps Premier e-mail accounts are forced to log out, and log-in using their personal Gmail account in order to access services like Picasa.
On one level that makes sense. There are security and privacy concerns related to social networking, and IT administrators have to be cautious about exposing the network to risk, and the potential for sensitive information being compromised via social networks.
On the other hand, social networking is a valuable tool for businesses to leverage for marketing, public relations, and customer support. Organizations of all sizes are struggling to define the role of social networking in the workplace so it makes sense that Google would draw a line in the sand between its enterprise and consumer offerings.
A tool like Google Buzz, however, relies on the web of connections users have established in their social networks, and loses much of its appeal without the ability to integrate Picasa, YouTube, and other such services. Users don't want to have to manage dual personas, so Google needs to figure out how to integrate the enterprise and consumer services, but provide IT administrators with the tools necessary to restrict or deny access.
Google is rolling out Google Buzz to all Gmail accounts beginning today, but when asked when Google Buzz for enterprise can be expected, the panel of Google execs said there is no established ETA beyond just "soon".