On February 9, 2010, Google launched Buzz – the newest addition to the rapidly growing family of online social networking tools. Borrowing heavily from Friendfeed, a part of the Facebook platform, Buzz’s feature set includes the usual suspects of real time activity streaming, photo and video sharing, as well as several bonus features, such as geo-location and content recommendations. Currently, Buzz is offered exclusively to consumers through its integration with the existing Gmail service. An enterprise version is expected to be available in mid 2010.
The launch of Buzz had generated a great deal of …well buzz in the blogosphere and the mainstream media with most commentaries focusing on two aspects: (1) dissecting Buzz’s feature set, and (2) pondering what the launch of Buzz means for the online social networking space in general and the likes of Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter in particular. There are some very insightful analyses on both topics out there and I would definitely encourage you to check them out.
Much less attention, however, has been paid to the role that Buzz will eventually play in the enterprise space. Perhaps, the time for this discussion hasn’t come yet – after all, the enterprise version of Buzz will not be available for at least few more months. Nonetheless, given Google’s insistence on the importance of the enterprise segment for its overall business strategy, it would be helpful to consider some key implications. So, here are a few early thoughts:
- Why is Google launching Buzz? The launch of Buzz is a step towards making the Google Apps suite, currently consisting of basic productivity and communications tools, into an integrated multi-mode enterprise collaboration platform. Deploying such platforms to foster better work practices around core business tasks and processes is gaining momentum at the more forward-looking firms. Google’s first attempt in this area, Google Wave, was perhaps overly ambitious and has lost most of its traction due to the lack of integration with established communication means, such as email, and the scarcity of proven use cases. Google is eager to right its wrongs. By disentangling the Wave and incorporating some of its more widely accepted features, such as status updates, into the established services of the Apps suite, Google may be able to offer a much more convincing package to meet firms’ productivity and collaboration needs.
- Who will Buzz be competing against? On the enterprise side, Buzz will be up against a very different set of competitors than those currently being mulled in the blogosphere. Instead of Twitter, we will have to see how Buzz stacks up against Yammer and Chatter (a recently launched social collaboration tool by Salesforce). On a more fundamental level though, if the consumer version of Buzz is widely being seen as a jibe at Facebook, Buzz for enterprise will – perhaps unsurprisingly – escalate matters with Microsoft. Sharepoint, MSFT’s flagship collaboration solution, has been recently getting a lot of grief for its rigid hierarchical structure and inability to support free-flow real-time collaboration. There is little doubt that Google will try to take advantage of this by pushing forward its Sites solution (currently a part of the Apps suite) with Buzz providing an additional social collaboration layer on top of the Sites’ portal- and wiki-like capabilities.
- Can Buzz be successful in the enterprise? Trying to answer this question months in advance of the actual solution launch seems a bit premature. Yet, a few general thoughts wouldn’t hurt. First, Buzz is unlikely to take the enterprise by storm. Instead, much like Google Apps, it will see a gradual mainstream adoption with higher diffusion rates in certain niche markets, such as SMEs, education, etc. Second, fundamentally Buzz’s success or failure will come down to the overall viability of the Google Apps suite and Google’s willingness (and ability) to tweak Buzz’s feature set. The latter will include addressing concerns currently being discussed in relation to the consumer version. Finally, in terms of the end-user adoption, Buzz seems to have an advantage that none of its direct competitors, such as Yammer, Chatter, etc., has. Because the enterprise solution will be following in the footsteps of the consumer version, Buzz’s end-user adoption may receive a significant leg up from the personal-to-business usage spillover. As the line between personal and professional becomes more blurred by the day (thanks in big part to the rise of online social media), these spillover dynamics are likely to become more important in the vendor turf battles.
Again, it is very early to say what kind of impact Buzz will end up having in the enterprise space. What is clear, though, is that business social software is gaining momentum and more vendors are turning their heads toward this space. Google is set to become the next big entrant – be sure to expect more.