Google announced that it will add features to its consumer social network Google+ to make it suitable for business users. It seems this new avatar of Google+ will join the collection of collaboration tools in the Google Apps family, alongside its email, calendar, and file-sharing tools.
However, Google may find that on the enterprise side too, the ship has already sailed. Let's look at the offering, the company, and then the competition.
The frame of reference for Google+ has been Facebook and naturally, its features and functionality reflect that. Enterprise deployments are a different ball game and require different features -- like roles and groups, permissions, and workflows -- that remain be added to the product.
One feature that comes up a differentiator in almost all discussions involving Google+ is the group video chat (a.k.a., Hangouts). On the consumer side, it may have been novel but on the enterprise side, the integration of video chat with social already exists (e.g., Cisco Quad, Tibco tibbr). So, that one feature is not a silver bullet.
Yes, Google Apps has some mature applications. But to present a coherent user experience by integrating them and social functionality, and all of that in the context of work, is an altogether different matter. Just ask Microsoft - despite its enterprise software experience, Microsoft still struggles to present polished SharePoint applications.
As a consumer technology company, Google possesses a well-deserved reputation for its tech-smarts (count me among its countless fans).
But the story on the enterprise side is different and the company's track record does not exactly inspire confidence here. Enterprise customers want applications developed with their use cases in mind. They want flexibility and SLAs tailored to their requirements. They want the certainty that the vendor is committed to the product in the long run, rather than pushing all risks to resellers and customers. You'll want to wait and watch on this one.
As of today, the Enterprise Social Network marketplace is a rapidly changing but a reasonably mature marketplace that offers a lot of choice. There already are many credible offerings ranging from large platforms to specialist vendors as we detail in our Enterprise Collaboration and Social Software research stream. Google+ will be getting its facelifts all through 2013 and by the time it is finally ready to go to market, competitors too will have enhanced their products.
Not to forget that social networks within an enterprise provide better value when they work alongside other existing business applications. Google's competition has spent a lot of time building connectors and integrating their software with existing tech stacks. Any new entrant will have a lot of catch up to do.
In summary, it is not certain that Google+ will have a broader appeal beyond the core constituency of (mostly small) businesses relying on Google Apps today.