Google took another step toward giving its Apps suite an ESN (enterprise social networking) component with the new activity stream feature for the Drive cloud storage piece.
Google said in a blog post that Drive's activity stream is "a single, easy-to-view place to review every action taken on your files and folders."
"You'll see a rundown of what your team has been doing, such as editing and commenting on team notes, adding a new spreadsheet, renaming a presentation, sharing with your boss and more," wrote Ian Gunn, Google Drive Interaction Designer.
By clicking on a specific file or folder, users will be able to see a list of actions related to it, according to Google.
Apps, a cloud email and collaboration suite for businesses, has been around since 2006, but Google hasn't yet developed an ESN component for it. Some customers and analysts believe Google should speed up its efforts to give ESN capabilities to Apps.
It has been assumed that Apps' ESN features would be anchored in a workplace version of the Google+ social networking site. So it's interesting that this activity stream is showing up instead in Drive, the suite's cloud storage component that is deeply integrated with the suite's office productivity apps for word processing, presentations and spreadsheets.
Google+ isn't yet an official part of Apps, but customers can choose to make it available for their users.
Alan Lepofsky, an analyst with Constellation Research, said the activity stream will be useful but that it's inconvenient that to view it people have to go to the Drive interface.
"I think a more effective mechanism will be when the events from Google Drive are being displayed inside the Google+ stream or even Gmail inbox for those that prefer email," he said via email.
Asked for comment on whether this activity stream will be later moved to Google+, a Google spokesman declined to comment.
For IDC analyst Michael Fauscette, this activity stream gives Drive a feature that rival cloud storage products from Dropbox and Box already have, but it still leaves Apps short of a full-featured ESN.
"It's a limited use 'activity stream' that is there to show who changed what on a shared file," he said via email.
The Google spokesman said via email that users can see updates via the activity stream on any file or folder to which they have access, either because the users created them or because the files and folders were shared with them. "This is a way to track activity on any file or folder that matters to you," he said.
ESN software has become very popular in recent years because it provides Twitter- and Facebook-like functionality for workplace use, including employee profiles, activity streams, discussion groups, microblogging, commenting, document sharing and other social media features.
ESN software is designed to complement companies' existing communication and collaboration products, like email, IM, office productivity apps, audio and video conferencing, by providing additional ways for employees to interact with each other.
Microsoft spent $1.2 billion in 2012 to buy ESN vendor Yammer in order to boost the ESN features of SharePoint, Office 365, and several other of its business software products.
"Microsoft has declared that Yammer will be the center of the Office productivity experience -- early moves include Yammer feeds as part of SharePoint -- so Google needed a comparable capability for Drive," said Forrester Research analyst TJ Keitt via email.
"I don't know if this is the thing that gives Google Apps an ESN story," Keitt said. "But I've argued that what would be really interesting is combining Drive with Google+ so that content is an active participant in a circle."
Pure-play ESN vendors include Jive Software and NewsGator, while some larger vendors have their own ESN products, including Tibco (Tibbr), IBM (Connections), Cisco (WebEx Social), and Salesforce.com (Chatter.)
Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.