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Startups

Google Plus in new push to lure companies

30 Aug, 2012

Google is expanding its social networking service further into the corporate world to take on the likes of Microsoft's Yammer and Salesforce.com's Chatter.

The Mountain View-based company launched Google Plus in June last year but did not originally allow business customers of its Google Apps products, such as Gmail or Docs, to join the service.

After allowing corporate accounts to use Google Plus in November last year, the company on Wednesday introduced extra features and security controls which it hopes will encourage more businesses to use its "Hangouts" video chat and share internal information.

Google's renewed push into corporate social networking comes after a busy period of dealmaking in the sector, one of Silicon Valley's hottest despite the decline in valuations for consumer-facing social companies such as Facebook and Zynga.

In June, Microsoft announced that it would pay $1.2bn in cash for Yammer, a four-year-old start-up, while on Monday IBM agreed a $1.3bn deal to acquire Kenexa, which provides cloud-based software for managing and recruiting staff.

These deals come on top of Salesforce's success with Chatter, a Twitter-like tool for corporate customers, and online collaboration start-ups such as Huddle, which raised $24m in venture funding in May.

Each has capitalised on the broader trend for "consumerisation" of corporate IT, offering online tools which as easy to use as consumer technology.

Clay Bavor, product management director for Google Apps, said he believed that Google had an advantage over its competitors because it offered to businesses the same products that consumers enjoy using in their home life.

"Our approach to Google+ is fundamentally different to what we saw elsewhere. It's a social spine hanging the Google Apps products together," Mr Bavor told the Financial Times.

Google Plus now allows corporate customers to post content that can only be seen by fellow employees, administrative controls and the ability to start a "Hangout" instantly from within Gmail or Google Calendar.

"This is the first big step we are really taking in making Google+ enterprise ready," Mr Bavor said.

Google said in June that it had 5m businesses using Google Apps, totalling tens of millions of individual user accounts. At the same time, it said Google Plus had 150m active monthly users, from 250m registered accounts since its launch around a year earlier.

However, Google's inroads into business tools have not always been successful. Google Wave, a complex collaboration service, was shuttered after just over a year after leaving many users flummoxed by its user interface, although the underlying technology has been incorporated into other Google products.

Despite the additional data security, businesses considering adopting Google Plus will also have to consider the privacy implications for their employees. Earlier this year, Google made sweeping and sometimes controversial changes to its privacy policy that allowed it to blend data from services such as Gmail and Google Plus into its search results, through its so-called "Search plus your world" approach.

Google does not yet use data from its corporate customers in this way but Mr Bavor indicated that it planned to do so in future.

"Over time, being thoughtful about enterprise controls, we really want to bring all this functionality to the enterprise," he said. "At launch it won't include 'Search plus your world' although it's certainly something we're thinking about … We think there is value in being able to search across all your information, whether you're a consumer or an Apps customer."

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