Google may be moving too slowly in building up Google Apps' ESN (enterprise social networking) features at a time when this type of software has become a key component in workplace collaboration suites.
On Wednesday, the company took another small step in its effort to tailor its Google+ consumer social networking site into one that Apps customers can use to boost collaboration among their employees.
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Although moves in that direction are welcome for the Apps email and collaboration suite, Google might do well to speed up the pace, since demand for ESN software has been growing robustly, a trend expected to intensify in coming years.
"We have to think about this as the art of the possible," said Forrester Research analyst Rob Koplowitz, referring to the development of Google+'s ESN capabilities.
ESN software provides Facebook- and Twitter-like functionality adapted for workplace use, including employee profiles, activity streams, microblogging, document sharing, content rating, blogging, discussion groups, and online communities.
Spending on ESN products grew almost 40 percent last year to $767.4 million, and it is expected to increase at a 42 percent compound rate through 2016, when it will reach almost $4.5 billion, according to IDC.
Microsoft recently paid $1.2 billion to acquire ESN vendor Yammer, a deal intended to boost enterprise social collaboration capabilities in SharePoint, Office, Dynamics, and other Microsoft products.
IBM, VMware, and Cisco have added ESN components to their broader enterprise collaboration suites, while Oracle and Salesforce.com have done the same to their broader enterprise application stacks. And there is a thriving ecosystem of pure-play ESN vendors like NewsGator, Jive Software, and Telligent.
Although Apps was launched in 2006, Google only started working on an ESN component last year, when it made it possible for Apps administrators to offer Google+ to their end users as part of their suite.
This week, Google threw in an initial set of IT controls to let Apps administrators set companywide default restriction settings for Google+ posts and multiparty video conferencing via the Hangouts feature. These IT controls are available to customers using the Education, Government, and Business editions of Apps.
End users can also individually mark their posts as restricted, which makes it impossible to re-share them outside of their organization's domain.
Google+ also gained the ability to append Hangouts to a Calendar event, making it possible for users to join the video conference directly from the Calendar invite or entry. This feature is available to both consumer and Apps users of Google+.
Previously, Hangouts had been integrated in similar ways with both Gmail and the Docs office productivity applications, again for consumers and Apps users.
But as ESN software goes, these capabilities are pretty slim.
"I hope what they're doing is providing more than just a private Google+," said Alan Lepofsky, a Constellation Research analyst. "If it's just about posting private comments, then that's a big failure."
A Google official said that a lot more is coming.
"The key point of this launch is that we are just getting started," said Clay Bavor, Google Apps product management director.