Google+ tremors rattle Apps suite

Vic Gundotra's departure raises questions about the social network's future, including its role for enterprise customers

By , IDG News Service |  Unified Communications

The surprising departure of Google+ chief Vic Gundotra has ignited uncertainty and speculation about the product's future, including its place in the workplace Apps suite.

Even before Gundotra's resignation last week, the company's plans for Google+ in the enterprise were unclear. While Google makes it possible for Apps admins to turn on Google+ for their domain users, the social networking site isn't a core, supported component of that email and collaboration suite.

Google has added some IT admin and developer features to Google+ and to its Hangouts video/audio communications component, but the product isn't a full-featured enterprise social network like Microsoft's Yammer and IBM's Connections, or an enterprise unified communications (UC) system like Microsoft's Lync and others from Cisco, Avaya and Alcatel-Lucent.

Now Google's tentative, slow march to take Google+ to the enterprise has been compounded by the firestorm over Gundotra's abrupt exit, which has triggered speculation that the product's scope could be significantly scaled back because it didn't become a viable Facebook competitor in the consumer market.

Analysts say Google needs to make a clear statement regarding its plans for Google+ in general and for the enterprise customers in particular.

"They need to be very clear on product road map, both in features and timing, in order for people to trust that Google+ is not the next Google Reader," said Constellation Research analyst Alan Lepofsky, referring to the popular RSS manager Google discontinued.

For TJ Keitt, a Forrester Research analyst, the message from Google is overdue. "They should have discussed the future of Google+ as part of Google Apps a while ago," Keitt said.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and Microsoft in particular is moving aggressively to make up the ground it ceded in the cloud email and collaboration market when Google jumped ahead and released Apps about 7 years ago.

"Google had a great chance to make some inroads into the enterprise by combining Gmail/Calendar, Google Apps, Drive and Google+ with a 2 to 3 year lead on Microsoft," Lepofsky said.

Now, Microsoft has put together a compelling offering with Office 365, Yammer and OneDrive. "Advantage Microsoft," Lepofsky said.

Google didn't immediately comment on what its current plans are for Google+ in the Google Apps suite.

The search giant had lofty expectations for Google+ when it launched the social networking site almost three years ago. CEO Larry Page, Gundotra and other high-ranking executives said Google+ would tie together most Google products by giving them a common social and identity layer.

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