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Can Google Bring Enterprises Together?

Last week marked the official launch of Google Sites, a web-based collaboration service that has been lovingly dubbed by some as the "Sharepoint killer." It lets you pull together information from across Google Apps to create customized company intranets, team sites and more. It's the reincarnation of JotSpot, which Google acquired over a year ago, with a few new twists.

Appirio has been using JotSpot for over a year as our employee intranet and knowledge base, using it as a way to disseminate information and best practices, document processes and methodologies, ramp up new hires and archive content. It has become an enormous corporate asset for a company like Appirio that has employees and consultants distributed across the U.S.

We're excited about the progress of Google Sites, but rather than review the new features or the pros and cons of the service, we'd rather highlight what this type of collaboration service means for enterprises and why on-demand collaboration is so compelling.

It's clear that approaches to collaboration inside enterprises have not had anything close to the same level of success as social networking sites for consumers. Why is that? People like to interact with other people. They like to do less work to be more productive. Yet despite these core truths, enterprise-based collaboration tools lag far behind the maturity and growth of sites like Facebook, mySpace, Digg and others.

We believe that if enterprise collaboration services shared some of the same characteristics of these successful social networking sites, we'd see a lot more progress.

  • Keep it simple, stupid - On the whole consumers migrate to things that are intuitive. We want products that give you the features you need, without going overboard or making things overly complicated. No site represents this better than google.com. By making this so simple and intuitive, even the slightest change can draw substantial attention or mindshare from the user.This is where Google shines and it's very different from the way most enterprise collaboration tools have been built in the past. In the enterprise software world more attention is often given to the number of boxes you can check on an RFP response than to the actual user experience.
  • Make users WANT to be there - The beauty of social networking sites is people actually want to be there. How many people can say that about Sharepoint? By making it easy to embed photos, slideshows and videos using services like Picassa and YouTube, employees are more apt to come to and stay on the site. Also, make it easy to update and navigate. Team collaboration may not always be FUN, but it should never be painful.
  • Leverage the "wisdom of crowds" - The 2004 book by James Surowiecki describes how and when the collective intelligence of the "crowd" is far superior to that of any individual. The Internet is the ultimate enabler of that. eBay, Digg and other sites actively harness that capability every day. As a result, its critical to be able to embed services from across the Internet. That is one way Google Sites (embed any web gadget), Facebook (embed any application) and others become so powerful so quickly.

  • Apply the network effect - The success of social networking sites correlates to size of the user community (wisdom of crowds) and the volume of interactions (e.g. Twitter). The same could be said for intranets or team sites. The more information and interactions happening on these sites, the more valuable they become. Google gets that, which is why their sites can be easily networked and searched, why users are encouraged to create their own sites, and why Google's marketing is often aimed more at the users themselves than IT departments.

The Cloud Inside the Silver Lining

Google Sites is making a lot of progress in the areas above. However, there are several things that CIOs and IT departments need to be conscious of before they deploy Sites or other collaboration tools like it in the enterprise. First is that these tools are going to get used whether you sanction them or not. Google Docs, Spreadsheets, Presentations and now Sites will emerge from the ground up. Understanding this can help plan and integrate natural momentum from a business user's consumer side influences.

Also, the easier it is to create sites the more employees will want to create their own. Google Sites encourages this, which may be a conscious decision to employ the network effect. However, it can create "pockets of knowledge" and reduce the impact of having a single, comprehensive site. The Internet tends to empower the end user not the IT administrator. The only way to get ahead of this in the enterprise is to do what good Internet sites do - become the most relevant site for the user. Creating relevant content, integration and awareness of a core set of capabilities makes it less likely that end users will stray into unsupported territory.

The Internet is the future of collaboration - whether it occurs inside or outside the enterprise. The innovative business that wants to drive productivity through collaboration must embrace this change to create a passion for working together.



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