"We're really taking the first big step in bringing Google+ to the enterprise," said Clay Bavor, director of product management at Google.
When Google first launched Google+ in June 2011, it had to ask businesses to hold off. Google said at the time that it was focused on the consumer experience and that it would develop business-oriented features later.
In October 2011, Google made its Google+ social network available to its enterprise customers through Google Apps, its business-oriented online application suite. But it didn't offer business customers anything specifically tuned to address corporate needs.
Since then, Google has added a few business-friendly capabilities, like the ability to embed a Google Docs file in a Hangout video conference and the ability to participate in a Hangout through Gmail.
On Wednesday, Google rolls out several new Google+ features, with an eye toward launching a distinct Google+ enterprise service by 2014.
First, Google Calendar invitations will gain the ability to launch Hangout meetings. "Attendees can come into meeting with one click, without having to fumble around with an 800-number or passcode," explained Bavor. "This really speaks to how we've thought about Google+. It's not this separate place to go to be social. Rather we're integrating it throughout the product suite."
Hangouts has long been the most compelling Google+ feature for businesses because companies were doing videoconferencing long before Google+ made it incredibly simple, and because the alternative--travel--becomes more expensive and less service-oriented every year.
Bavor recounted how Journal Communications has been using Google's technology. The Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based publishing company, said Bavor, had promoted a manager in a remote office and, rather than requiring him to relocate to the main office, the company set up telepresence office for him. This allowed employees to visit with "virtual Ben," a Chromebook running a perpetual Google+ Hangout in which the real Ben participated from afar.
Second, corporate Google+ users will gain the ability to restrict the sharing of posts. Users will be able to share with select individuals or groups. Sharing can be restricted to within an organization or can include team members outside an organization if specifically designated.
"We want to give users every ... confidence that when they share, it's with the people they intended," said Bavor.
Third, Google Apps administrators, through the Google Apps control panel, will gain the ability to configure Google+ for employees.
Bavor observed that Google is offering Google+ "as part of Google Apps through 2013." What happens after that? Will Google+ become a paid enterprise service? Bavor said only, "we're keeping our options open."
However, Matt Cain, a research VP at Gartner, believes there will be a Google+ enterprise edition. "Google will add more enterprise features over the next year and it is likely to be an official product by the end of next year," he said in an email. "Google would not say if it was going to monetize [Google+], but our interpretation is that they will charge for it, once it is finished."
Cain noted that the emerging enterprise features in Google+ are not covered under the Google Apps service level agreement and are not covered by standard Google Apps support. He also points out that Google+ still cannot be locked down so that only internal personnel can use it and that the service presently lacks data leak prevention and archiving capabilities.
Nonetheless, Cain considers it a good start, which also happens to be how Bavor put it.
"While we're really excited about this launch ... we're really just getting started with this," said Bavor. "We're absolutely committed to making Google+ a success in the enterprise."
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