Google Buzz’s True Home Is in the Enterprise

Google Buzz — Google’s belated attempt to make Gmail social and sharing relevant — is a neat product, but its true value isn’t for consumers; it’s for enterprise customers of Google Apps.

Buzz is deeply rooted in Gmail — that’s the point, after all. On signup, users are automatically connected to the Gmail contacts they correspond with most. They can use the increasingly ubiquitous “@” syntax to lasso someone into a Buzz conversation by using their Gmail username. Buzz activity shows up right in your Gmail Inbox. That’s great — but many people do not use Gmail.

Sure, if Google Buzz is awesome enough, it will attract more people to sign up for Google’s free webmail product. But let’s face it; Google’s not the only player in this game. Other webmail providers, like Yahoo and Microsoft, also offer social-web aggregation tools (they’re not as nifty as Google’s, of course). And Google Buzz is really only a slice of Facebook functionality.

Where Google Buzz could really shine is in the intersection of a group of friends, classmates or colleagues who communicate often and whose email addresses share a domain name. That’s already the case for schools and companies who use Google Apps. The three-year-old Apps product had more than 2 million businesses enrolled as of December, with more than 20 million users across standard (aka free), premier and edu versions.

Bradley Horowitz, Google’s VP of product management, said at the Buzz launch event that an enterprise version of Google Buzz is absolutely in the cards, and high on Google’s priority list. That’s good to hear, because on the consumer side, Google Buzz would have to add a ton of features — publishing to sites like Twitter, connecting to sites like Facebook, APIs galore, etc — to start to compete as the open social network that it hints at today. On the enterprise side, however, a lightweight conversation tool would be just fine and dandy.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin told reporters today that the Buzz product gained recognition and support within Google only after people started using it for corporate functions, and saw its utility. He said it was tremendously helpful in writing a recent op-ed for the New York Times about book search. Rather than having a controlling in-house editor dictate and distill his rough draft (the horror!), Brin posted it on Google Buzz and then incorporated a whole panel’s worth of comments into his piece.

Here at GigaOM, we use Google Apps for email, document management and calendaring and Socialcast (which is backed by our investor and Om’s other employer, True Ventures) for group messaging. I can definitely see the usefulness of a private collaboration tool that ties more closely to email (where most of our workflow takes place), adds Google’s fantastic search capabilities and incorporates Buzz’s relevance and recommendations tools. With integrated support for document sharing, and in-line Inbox alerts instead of robot emails, Buzz would fit right into daily collaboration for enterprises large and small.

Socialcast is just one of many web tools for the enterprise, as have been detailed in our reports Social Media in the Enterprise and The Real-Time Enterprise. It’s always a significant threat when Google comes onto your turf, and Google Apps has already shown it can achieve considerable adoption, so these startups — Jive Software, SocialText, Yammer, et al. — are going to suffer. But it’s not like that’s anything new in the enterprise software space, where giants like Microsoft and IBM have ruled for years. The only question is whether Google’s influence will change the game.

Question of the week

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  1. Really good analysis. I think very highly of most Google products but Buzz has been a surprising letdown. Not only is the learning curve unnecessarily high (though not terrible), but it violates some cardinal rules, among them: just because I gmail you (and I gmail everybody) doesn’t mean I want to be your friend in any way.

    However, ^^^within the enterprise or amongst a select user group/mailing list, it could be powerful, creating a giant ecosystem by creating hundreds of thousands of tiny ecosystems.^^^

  2. Thanks for the comment, Rick. I think a Google behind-the-firewall appliance that offered Google Apps would be a great idea. One of Google’s weaknesses is that it doesn’t think as much about the corporate market — or at least doesn’t do as good a job of targeting that market — as it probably should.

  3. So I guess that begs the question, what defines a “private collaboration tool” and an “enterprise version”. No doubt there’s a clear fit for companies who have committed to and are comfortable with an external cloud/hosted solution. However, there are a number of very legitimate reasons for this functionality to be accessible behind the firewall in a local private cloud.

    To date, Google has not offered any solutions except search (GSA) for deployment behind the firewall. Personally, I think a Google Apps appliance would a huge seller. It could still be configured to “self-update” or IT-monitored updates, but would physically live inside the corporate firewall. At Google IO last year, I probed a number of people on the Google Apps team as to why they don’t offer an appliance, only to be met with blank stares…

    FYI, the reasons for a behind-the-firewall solution are many.

    1) Security. There are a great many situations where people who need access to the applications are not physically connected to the internet or the risk of network compromise is too significant to permit it. Great examples are those inside many manufacturing plants or power generation facilities. For security and safety reasons, those networks tend to be isolated from the internet, but there are hundreds of millions of workers who could utilize things like Google Apps, Buzz, etc in these scenarios.

    2) SLAs. Today, the SLA’s of many cloud-based app providers aren’t always adequate, and there are often a lot of “degrees of freedom” in this equation that can lead to inconsistent performance and availability.

    3) GRC considerations. In many environments, such as the pharmaceutical industry, applications need to be validated to meet FDA requirements, and constant and unseen updates to application software are a big no-no in those cases. Providing IT the ability to have some governance over the change management of the application software is a must. Additionally, since more and more of these applications are being consumed via APIs as much as via their built-in UI’s, stability of the APIs is also a key consideration so as not to break composite applications/mashups constructed from those services.

    Your thoughts?

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