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.