Traditionally, Google's enterprise products evolve out of its consumer services, so a ray of light for Apps administrators could be that the company isn't a social-networking neophyte.
Google has a consumer social-networking service called Orkut, which isn't as popular as Facebook or MySpace but has nonetheless a significant user base, especially outside of the U.S. The company also lets holders of Google accounts create personal profiles, where they can put information about themselves and consolidate access to Google services. A Google profile acts as a user's presentation badge on Google products to other users.
Given that it runs Orkut and the Google profile service, it wouldn't seem too much of a stretch for Google to adapt the existing technology of these two products into an enterprise social-networking component for Google Apps. "I certainly see them going in that direction," said Forrester analyst Sheri McLeish.
Others are already further ahead, though. IBM's Lotus unit launched Connections in June of 2007. That enterprise social-networking product lets administrators set up employee profiles, communities, activity stream broadcasting, blogs, social bookmarking and, soon, wikis. Connections integrates with collaboration products from IBM like Notes and Sametime, as well as with some third-party platforms.
As a sign that IT departments are very interested in enterprise social networking for end-users, Connections became the fastest-growing commercially available IBM software product in its first year of existence, and then last year doubled its base of clients, which includes Colgate Palmolive, Deutsche Bank, Bank of New York Mellon and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), according to IBM.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has partnered with NewsGator Technologies to provide enterprise social-networking functionality to SharePoint Server.
Socialtext, which started as a niche provider of enterprise wiki software, has built a broad collaboration suite with an enterprise social-networking component, which recently gained Twitter-like microblogging functionality.
This month, Jive Software announced a major revamping of its Clearspace enterprise social-networking suite, renaming it Jive SBS (Social Business Software) 3.0 and significantly expanding its capabilities. In February, Box.net, a specialist in online storage and file sharing for businesses, added enterprise social-networking features to its Web-based system and revamped the layout of its interface.
The fact that Google Apps is lagging behind these and other competitors in this area is a reflection of a larger product-development problem with the suite, McLeish said. "Google is kind of all over the place with Apps. In terms of the cohesiveness of all these applications, they haven't been able to bring that together in a more concrete way," McLeish said.