Google+ The New Enterprise Social Network?

by Charlene Li and Chris Silva

Google announced Google+ for Enterprises today with Hangouts integration into Docs and Calendar as well as administrative controls such as default posting to only within the company. We’ve been doing some research on the topic of enterprise social networks and, with Google moving into this market, have some thoughts around why this is a bigger deal than just another Google feature announcement.

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Google In The Office, Image Courtesy Of A Prescient Post On Using G+ At Work By Digital Telepathy

Google has a few things going for it that the pure plays like Yammer and Socialcast in this market don’t have and that tools like Microsoft’s Sharepoint have not yet built out:

  • Google Plus wins on affinity. Google has been steadily building it’s devoted network of over 5,000,000 enterprises that initially looked to the search provider for email support based on cost, and stayed due to apps and integration. Many have seen additional cost savings given the ability to move away from costly office suites as Google offers a parity of experience for simple document editing and sharing, with additional features such as support for mobile environments and better collaboration tools. Adding Google+ with tight integration just sweetens the pot. If social networks are a communication and community buy and not a technology buy, the affinity power of the Google stack of apps and services is a formidable foe for pure plays like VMWare’s Socialcast tool but less so for tools that integrate with larger systems such as Salesforce’s Chatter. It’s worth noting that, as of the announcement, Google was mum on what integrations with other, third-party enterprise apps would take place to allow Google+ to feed other stores of information. their ultimate decision on this advanced level of integration could determine long term success against tools like Chatter and, to a lesser degree Microsoft’s Sharepoint.
  • Google lowers the enterprise social barrier to entry. Many businesses will be tempted to try social networking inside of the org for the first time since the product comes at no additional cost. Some may migrate from their existing third party tools like Yammer or Socialcast to Google+ given that it works with a wider swath of tools that competitive offerings when considering integration with Google Apps. There’s a downside to this Googlification of the enterprise, however. Many users will have an existing personal Google identity they’ll need to reconcile Google+ to, though support for switching is possible across multiple accounts on most Google services of late. A more pressing problem is that someone could have TWO activity streams on Google+, which would be confusing at best, downright creepy at worst. This concern may not be too much of a hurdle given the overall challenge it’s been to get consumers to embrace the network, but it is a problem that other social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn have figured out because they are not tied to a specific email address but to a person.
  • Google has figured out how to make its tools intriguing. Elements like Google+ Hangouts were the stand outs at the time of the original Google+ launch, but relegated to the walled garden of the Google network. The company has smartly started to expand potential use of the tools outside of simple social contexts by adding Hangouts to Google Mail, recently Google Docs and what believe is the killer feature, Google Calendar. Companies that don’t yet “get” social are likely to see the addition of Hangouts as a collaborative tool with a great audit trail. And the social interaction — as well as the inter-team communication that it fosters — will be an organic side benefit. That said, Skype is a solid asset in the Microsoft arsenal with no small user base – wel over 400 million at last count – and making similar integration with existing office tools should be a minor addition for Redmond; having said that, it hasn’t taken place yet, which boggles the mind looking at a company so focused on the idea of collaboration.

Will Google+ for enterprises save the oft-maligned network? We think that a better way to think of this is what Google+ for enterprise reveals about Google’s intentions for its social efforts. Google+ doesn’t seek to be the biggest social network or the one where people spend the most time. Instead, Google+ seeks to be the most embedded social feature in the lives of its loyalist users so that they will never want to leave Google.

Look at Facebook’s biggest problems — it needs to constantly innovate and offer new features to fight off upstarts and retain its users. LinkedIn struggles to get people to even come to their site for more than a few minutes a month. Google+ isn’t a destination — it’s a ubiquitous presence that’s always there and now all the more so if  you’re a Google Apps user. This is about social being where you need and want it to be — it’s social being like air.

Do you think Google+ for Enterprise will make a difference against competitors? Do you agree that it makes Google+ more relevant — or will it have little impact? We’d love to you know your thoughts so please share with us!

Social Search Propels Bing, Will Hurt Google

by Charlene Li

Microsoft’s Bing.com search unit announced today that it is integrating Facebook’s social graph information into some parts of its search results. This is the long-awaited “social search” that I’ve been talking about and waiting for for years.  I was briefed by Adam Sohn from Bing.com this morning. [Update: Danny Sullivan has an excellent deep dive into the new offerings from Bing, as well as implications for SEO and Google.]

Search algorithms have used different types of “signals” like location to figure out what it is that the person is trying find or do. By integrating Facebook’s social graph and the “like” data generated by Facebook members, Bing is adding social signals to its algorithms.

In a nutshell, Bing announced two new features that take advantage of this new social signal: Liked Results and Profile Search.

Liked Results

When you are signed in to Facebook (more on what exactly that is later) and do a search on Bing, you have the option of seeing search results that take into account what your Facebook friends have “liked.” For example, if I’m searching for “restaurant Napa Valley”, I’ll see the 10 blue links that Bing’s search algorithm normally delivers. But I’ll also have the ability to see results that have been “liked” by my friends as well that also match the query.

It’s a way to highlight search results that your friends have liked. The fact that many of my friends are wine-drinking parents who may have dragged their kids along for a wine tasting tour means that the Liked Results are going to be just slightly more relevant to my particular situation.

Where it gets interesting is when the Liked Results don’t show up in the first page of the search engine results page (SERP). Bing then suddenly becomes much more relevant because it is personalized to you because of your social graph. Sohn explained to me that in the future, they plan to include what they call “algo annotation” that will show the signals that are being used to rank the result. For example, you’ll be able to see how many friends liked a particular link. There’s also the possibility in the future of showing not only likes, but also check-ins, photos of food and people, or reviews from friends associated with a particular restaurant in Napa.

Profile Search

About 4% of searches on Bing are name searches, amounting to about 1 billion searches a month. The problem is if you’re looking for a particular person — especially if they have a common name — it’s hard to differentiate. By tapping into your social graph, Bing looks at your friends, your friends’ friends, and your networks to return results that have greater “social proximity” to you. These search results will also appear as a separate module.

Privacy and Permissions

The key to making all of this work is that the person using Bing is logged into Facebook and thus gives permission for Bing to tap into his/her social graph and data. Bing is taking steps to make sure notifications are clear and require explicit opt-in. Over time, the notifications will cease to pop up, because the assumption is that the user will no longer want the notifications to appear after repeated acceptances.

Even if you are not logged into Facebook in another tab but have clicked on the “Keep me logged in” check box, you’re setting your cookie to sign you in for a set period of time, which is approximately two weeks right now. This usually isn’t a problem — as long as I’m the only person using the computer. But on a shared computer — like the one that’s in my kitchen — I am frequently inadvertently logged in as my husband and have done things such as accepted friends and Liked items on his account!

Now with search being impacted, I’ll have to make double sure that I’m logged in (or not) when using Bing.

Surfacing social graph information like photos and check-ins will raise even further the cries around privacy and permissions on Facebook. For someone who has set their privacy settings as completely public — and is careful about not putting up private items — this isn’t a problem. But most people are much more nuanced about this, maybe posting photos from an evening out that will now have the possibility of being taken completely out of context.

I believe that having social data in search results will lead to some inadvertent and potentially embarrassing and explosive situations, which in the end will curb people’s appetite for sharing socially. In the same way that college students realize that Facebook posts and photos will follow them into their professional careers, Facebook members will be more circumspect about posting when they see their friends’ social information showing up in general search results.

Power Shifts With Social Search

The rise of social search means that the people using it — and the companies who know how to leverage it — will have an advantage over those who don’t leverage social technologies. There are three major implications:

  1. SEO will lose relevance. Search engine optimization (SEO) — where a Web or content person tweaks a web page to get higher SERP positions — will lose effectiveness as search results become more influenced by social signals. While a company could potentially manipulate “likes” for an item or Web page, marketers can’t SEO your friends. The result: better search results for people who leverage their social graph, because the search results will include more relevant data.
  2. Socially connected people will make more money. If I have a great set of friends, I’ll be able to make better decisions because of more relevant search results. People in my network will start noticing the benefits of likes from their friends and be motivated to be more socially connected as well. It’s the classic network effect, but rather than be driven by purely social incentives, there are clear monetary ones as well — getting better deals, finding things faster, etc.
  3. Bing’s social search hits Google right between the eyes. Google has recently been making noises that it wants access to Facebook’s social graph, calling for the company to be more open. That’s because Google realizes that unless it can harness social graph data, it will be relegated to traditional algorithmic search based primarily on the information on the Web page itself and scrapping what social data it can. You can see some of Google’s early attempts at social search at http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/10/introducing-google-social-search-i.html.

Because Microsoft’s Bing is the privileged search provider on Facebook, it enjoys special access to the social graph and data that no one else does. That’s going to be a huge competitive advantage in a social-driven world, where users and marketers (and their search dollars) will flock to the search engine that performs.

Does it seem unlikely that Bing could unseat Google? It’s happened before. Remember that Yahoo used to be the search leader until Google came on the scene because of its new approach to search. So look for this new phase to come with significant changes.

Google Buzz and Kids – Parental Control Nightmare

[Original posted at altimetergroup.com]

Like many parents, I try to take steps to keep my kids safe online, making sure that they understand not to share personal information online, or even to use their real names. They know how to write appropriate emails, and I constantly monitoring what they do, the emails they send, and most importantly, engaging in a constant dialog with what they are doing online.
But when I logged into my Google Buzz account this evening, I found that my 9 year old daughter had posted the following:

Buzz piggy picture

Pretty innocuous, but it was PUBLIC! I saw it because Buzz conveniently made me a follow of hers. I pride myself on staying ahead of my kids, but this time, my kid got ahead of me. She used Buzz without fully understanding that what she thought was a private conversation with her friends was in fact very much public.

Fortunately, this was her only Buzz posting. But what was most disturbing was looking at her friends’ conversations and realizing that some of them were chatting with complete strangers, and in some cases, sharing personal information like emails. Absolutely terrifying as these are 4th graders who have no clue.

I quickly turned off Google Buzz, (but I didn’t totally disable it, more on that below), dashed off an email to the parents of the friends she had been chatting with inside of Buzz (again, all in public, with their real names), and then finally took a long hard look at the situation.

First, I discovered that buried in Google’s terms of service somewhere is that children under the age of 13 are not allowed to have Gmail accounts. But unlike Facebook, which requires that people enter their birthdates when setting up accounts, Google makes no such attempt to educate people signing up for Gmail that such a provision is in place. As a result, while Google is absolved of responsibility because of the TOS, it could and should do a better job of complying with the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). [UPDATE: Google does in fact ask for birthdate when signing up, and sends users who are under 13 to the FTC page about COPPA. Obviously, I violated Google's TOS by putting in MY birthdate and then giving account access to my child.]

Second, I think Google will have a second wave of privacy problems to address in Buzz. The easiest thing to do as a parent is to simply disable Buzz, meaning that the Google profile and all followers are deleted — permanently. But the reality is, my child has actually figured out how to use Buzz and seems to enjoy it – unlike most adult users of Gmail! But managing groups, privacy settings, etc. would be required for her to continue using it and I’m not confident as a parent that she’ll be able to figure all of that out. We’ll give it a try, but unless her friends also keep the conversation private, it will all be for naught.

So while I applaud Google for taking quick steps to manage the privacy backlash on Google Buzz, I think Buzz will bring to the fore the quiet reality that many people have enabled Gmail for their kids (and which Google loves because it ensures a new generation of Google devotees).

Without an overhaul and the addition of true parental controls in Gmail, this will remain a problem for Google, and a potential PR nightmare. Imagine parents (and kids) checking out their Buzz accounts to find that “iorgyinbathrooms” is following them, which is exactly what happened with my child’s account!

Does your child have a Gmail account? If so, have you talked to them about what Google Buzz is and how they should be properly using it? Please take action, which may be as dramatic as completely disabling Buzz on your child’s account. Do this as soon as possible, as I’m concerned that unsavory characters are already exploiting this parental control loophole.

Update Part 1: I received a response from a Google spokesperson, with permission to post it here:

“We designed Buzz to make it easy to have conversations with your friends about the things that interest you. Keeping kids safe online is very important to us. You must have a Google account to use Buzz, and we require all new Google account users to provide birthdates to keep children under 13 from signing up for accounts. Since we launched Buzz, we’ve listened to the feedback from our users and have made many product improvements to address their concerns. It’s still early, and we have a long list of improvements on the way. We look forward to hearing more suggestions and will continue to improve the Buzz experience with user control top of mind. Even as we roll out changes, we think it’s important to remember that there’s no substitute for parental supervision to keep kids safe on the Internet.”

Update Part 2: I had a chance to speak with Scott Rubin, who runs the child safety and public policy program at Google. As a parent of young children himself, Scott understands the need for parents to be able to control what their children see and do online. He pointed out that Google earlier this month enabled Safety Mode on YouTube and that the company continues to develop ways to give people in general better control. Scott acknowledged that things went wrong with Buzz and that some improvements were made quickly, and also that there’s more to come. We also discussed an interesting situation regarding children between 13 and 17 — those are are actually allowed to have Gmail accounts of their own. There are very few controls within the Google universe that give parents control, and Scott expressed an interest in continuing the dialog about what Google can do to ensure child safety.

So if you have suggestions on parental control features you’d like to see Google add, please include them in the comments below.

Update Part 3: As you can see in the comments on the original blog post, I’ve been branded both an irresponsible parent for giving my child access to email and also a responsible one for taking precautions. I’m often asked what I do as a parent so I thought I’d share some details of the madness to my method. First, there is no such thing as perfect, full-proof parental controls for the Internet short of sitting down with them and watching every keystroke. But that’s exactly what my husband and I did, starting early and stressing basic Internet safety such as not downloading files, sharing personal information, learning to exercise judgment online. Over time, we gave our kids more and more freedom to do things on their own, and put in place clear consequences if they broke the rules. Believe me, there have been many mistakes made and a lot of learning along the way! But each time, no major harm was done and they become more aware of all the pitfalls that being online entail.

Email was initially sent from our machines and our accounts with full supervision, then without supervision, and finally they were given their own accounts. But I still get copies of everything that they get, and they are allowed to email only people in their address book that are preapproved. This incident has made me rethink what email service we use for the kids, especially since we’re in violation of the Gmail TOS, and I’ll be looking into other options.

YouTube is accessible only from a public PC in the kitchen, and their PCs are in the family room with screens that I can easily see from the kitchen. We also have K9 monitoring software installed that blocks/allows sites and tracks everything they see and use. But my favorite software is TimesUpKidz, which limits their online time to one highly-anticipated hour a day, and then only during certain times. I love it because it removes my need to constantly tell them to get off the computer!

But more important than any piece of software, the thing that I believe keeps them most safe online is the constant communication and conversation we have together about their online activities. When I talked with my daughter about Buzz this morning, I told her that I saw the post that she wrote, and she readily said that she was looking forward to getting comments on it from her friends. When I told her that the posts were public, she said that she had no idea, and immediately agreed to stop using Buzz. She knows that she isn’t ready for a public presence and the reasons why. Our conversation about Buzz was part of our every day, normal conversation about being safe online, discussed in a relaxed way over breakfast. She and her brother frequently ask about things they hear about from their friends or things that they see online, and my hope is that as they enter the tumultuous teenage years, that we will continue having these conversations (although I think I’m be way to optimistic about that!)

Each family has to decide for themselves what works for their kids, and I understand that some people will disagree with my approach. But it seems to be working for us, and for now, the Google Buzz issue has been resolved. I’m no fool — I know dangerous situations are always lurking around the corner, but I hope that the security controls we’ve put in place plus the ongoing conversations we have will be enough to keep the worst situations from happening.