Google+: Panic in the Enterprise!
During the fall 2008 my company decided to take a bold move. Literally. We were finally abandoning Microsoft Exchange server in favor of Google Apps. Our emails would be powered by an online tool: Gmail. Some people were shocked and were making lists of things that wouldn’t work anymore if we made the move. I remember mentioning to a coworker that if this was the chance to never again lose emails due to corrupt local files, I’d sign up immediately.
We were cautious anyway and we formed a group of 50 people under the codename “g-50” that would make the transition first and completely, that is, their Exchange accounts would cease to exist day one. We imported our Exchange emails and moved to a new life. After a month or so every single person in the g-50 was excited about the experience and no one really missed the old life. We then rolled it out to the entire company – around 800 people at that time. The motto was a popular saying in Brazil “you may jump because there’s water” meaning that you won’t get hurt if you jump in the “pool”. Today many people are also transitioning to Google Docs and forgetting about Microsoft Office. That includes me.
Two weeks ago Google announced Google+ availability for the enterprise through Google Apps. Coincidentally, we had been discussing for weeks the addition of social features to our new Intranet and Google+ was being mentioned over and over during our meetings. There was a consensus that since we have consistent use of Google Apps throughout the company, it would make all the sense to leverage it and wait for Google+ to power the social engine. So, our dreams have just turned into reality, right? Not quite. We actually found out a nightmare could happen due to the current state of Google+ with Google Apps.
As of now there is only one noticeable difference between Google+ with Google Apps and the “general public” Google+: for the former, there is one automatic circle to which everyone in the organization shares and belongs. Sweet, so if I want to share a post and make it visible to only my company, that would be a piece of cake! But wait, does that mean that an employee would then have a chance to post something publicly to the entire world if they accidentally forgot to post to the “company circle”? Yes! And this is exactly why some companies will panic upon consideration for being an early adopter of Google+.
According to the Google+ FAQ page:
“To use Google+, users must create a Google+ Profile, which is publicly visible to anyone on the web. However, users can choose which information in their profile to share publicly or with just specific circles, and which information to keep private. Users can share content, including text messages, photos, and videos, with other Google+ users outside your organization. They can also make any content they share publicly visible to anyone on the web.”
The most incredible aspect of the potential confidentiality issue is that not long ago precisely this occurred inside Google’s very own corporate environment when one of its engineers accidentally posted publicly to more than 2,000 followers a passionate rant that was supposed to be shared internally. The news gained traction in the blogosphere and it is now known as the “Great-Granddaddy of Reply-All Screwups”. This ended up being good for everyone: for the engineer who was made famous with a great article raising valuable points on architecture strategy and for Google and Amazon which were ultimately eulogized more than criticized.
This is far from a typical example though. Imagine a service company like ours, developing breakthrough software that will be the center of a client’s new market strategy and the possibility of one of our engineers to share something strictly confidential to their entire network of friends. Popular engineers are usually connected to thousands of other engineers, inside and outside the company, including competitors. So, why Google didn’t simply make it possible for companies to restrict the use of Google+ with Google Apps to the internal community? I understand that it wouldn’t help the tool to expand according to their plans, but it would certainly facilitate the enterprise adoption road-map.
Moreover, a very good percentage of us have also a personal Gmail account with Google+ turned on. Now we have different Google+ accounts owned by the same person and people are confused on who to add, because it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. As an example, after someone added me to one of his circles, I received an email that suggested that I should also add my CEO, but he appeared twice in the same email: one entry was for his personal account, the other one his corporate account and there was no way for me to tell which one was which. That potentially increases the risk of having people sharing confidential information in a public fashion. Google says in its blog that soon will provide a tool to allow people to import data from the personal account to the Google App one, including the circles you created. Why would we want that? That’s not the right thing to do.
Our first instinctive reaction was to turn-off Google+ until we figured out what to do next. However, despite all those bumps down the road, we are looking at Google+ as a potential revolution in the way we foster social interactions within our business and beyond, so we won’t give up that easily. First we firmly believe Google will make proper adjustments as more and more people complain about the missing basic features. Second, we’ll do something similar to the g-50 idea we had back in 2008. We turned off Google+ for our domain and we are creating a sub-organization inside it where we can turn Google+ on and add people to it. The idea is to start with a small group of leaders and progress by gradually adding more people until we have all employees “educated” and ready to go. For new employees, we are going to have an e-learning tool to make sure newcomers are on the same page from the outset.
For the sake of making sure the necessary privacy policies are enforced, we are building a robot to monitor all the public posts generated from the corporate Google+ accounts.
Some of the things we would like to see in the upcoming versions of Google+ with Google Apps include:
A way to create and add people to company-managed circles. This way we could create circles for clients, projects, internal groups, etc. It makes little sense to rely solely on people-generated circles, as this would never converge to the necessary standards of the enterprise.
The possibility to block public posts if necessary in the near future. We really want to use the tool, but we cannot afford misteps.
A simple way to tell the world we are the same person using different Google+ accounts, meaning that it would be at people’s discretion to add my personal account or my corporate-related account.
One of the things I personally look forward to exploring is the multi-person video chat feature (hang-outs) integrated with Google Apps. If Google tweaks this tool well, it will allow companies to increase productivity considerably while promoting better integration between geographically separated teams.
About Márcio Cyrillo
Head of mobile strategy at Ci&T's mobile studio / UX Atelier. Co-founder of the mobile social running platform runens and mentor of the mobile gaming company Ipanema Games.