Biz Buzz — Google plans to push social networking into the office

While Google Inc. hopes its new Buzz social networking tool set gives it another entry into the corporate world, analysts have mixed views over whether it can offer features that enterprise users need.

Google took the wraps off what it has dubbed Google Buzz — a set of tools designed to make its popular Gmail e-mail service a social networking hub.

Should Biz Go Buzz? -Google wants social networking to go to work

The company said that Google Buzz is designed to help users more easily and quickly find the most important information contained in their flood of social posts, pictures and videos.

During the formal announcement, Google disclosed that its engineers are working on a version of the Buzz service for business users. The company did not say when the enterprise version of Buzz will hit the streets, though Bradley Horowitz, Google’s vice president of product management, said development is well underway and that the product should be released soon.

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That version of Google Buzz is the latest effort by Google to attract the attention of corporate IT managers and show that the company can be an enterprise alternative to Microsoft Corp.

Over the past year, the company has launched itself into a heated rivalry with Microsoft. Among other things, it outlined plans for Chrome OS, an operating system that analysts said could one day challenge Microsoft’s vaunted Windows software. Analysts say that Chrome and other new applications for the enterprise — like its recently retailored Google Groups — give Google an opportunity to both move into the lucrative enterprise realm and sock it to Microsoft.

“Buzz could be very interesting in a work environment,” said Rob Koplowitz, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. “Microblogs, like Yammer and SocialText Signals, are proving valuable in a work setting.

To some extent, Google is not only providing a microblog-type update feature, it’s adding video and images and tightly integrating it all into e-mail, where many knowledge workers still spend the majority of their time.”

Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc., agreed that corporate workers are increasingly using social networking tools, but he wonders whether Google Buzz is too late to the party.

“While a lot of people do communicate with business colleagues via Facebook or other social networks, these interactions are typically more socially-oriented than business-focused.

The existing social network mechanisms, like Twitter and Facebook, seem to fulfill these needs pretty well. I think it’s going to be hard for Buzz to catch on with folks who are happily using other social networking mechanisms.”

Several analysts noted that Gmail isn’t the primary e-mail service used by most businesses, and that likely means that corporate IT departments won’t be widely installing Google Buzz.

“Gmail is used in business, but my feel is that it is typically a second or third e-mail account for most business people in midsize and large corporations,” said Olds.

“The majority of companies that have standardized on Gmail as their primary e-mail system are very small companies. I don’t believe that Gmail’s penetration into the corporate world, with big or small companies, is large enough to give them a decent-sized ready-made market for Buzz Enterprise.”

However, Stuart Williams, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc., said that e-mail may one day become less critical to enterprise users as collaboration products like Buzz gain popularity in business settings.

“Driving effective and efficient collaboration is one aspect of Buzz that is overlooked, and being able to instantly share information with peers over a social network is a boost,” Williams said, noting that Buzz could become “very” helpful to enterprise users. “E-mail is inefficient, and instant messaging, tweets and Facebook are different systems. The integration provides enterprises with fewer — but better — choices.”

Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, said he’s skeptical that Google Buzz, or even Google as a whole, will succeed in the enterprise market. According to Enderle, Google is “prematurely” focusing its efforts on pushing into the corporate world, and Google Buzz, in particular, isn’t the service to help drive that effort.

“In fact, [Google Buzz] may work against them in the enterprise,” said Enderle. “It has the feel and name of a consumer tool, and that should hurt Google’s ability to appear as a competent enterprise vendor.”

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