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Google+ finding its feet with businesses

Adam Bender | Feb. 1, 2013
Google continues to tweak its Google+ social media platform as the company seeks to gain traction among businesses.

However, Google's DeWitt said the company has responded to customer demand for more administrative controls. She also argued that business customers must become more comfortable with social media.

"We're in the middle of a paradigm shift with consumerization of IT and the move to cloud computing, and so there's a certain level of [comfort] that people just need to get accustomed to," DeWitt said.

"There's a heightened concern about data security that's a little bit misplaced because people aren't used to it yet."

The changes Google has made so far reflect the company's approach of launching first, collecting customer feedback and then prioritising changes based on the feedback, DeWitt said.

For example, Google recently added Hangouts integration to its calendar application in response to customer demand, she said. It also upped the maximum number of Hangouts to 15, up from the 10 allowed in the consumer version, acknowledging the larger size of business meetings, she said.

A business-focused mobile version of Google+ is in the pipeline, DeWitt said.

"The impact of Google+ on businesses and institutions is likely to be very subtle, just as it was with Gmail," said Ovum analyst, Richard Edwards. That's because Google doesn't have a specific Google+ business product, but rather has been "continuously enabling business features on Google+ which Google Apps for Business users can benefit from."

"As Marshall McLuhan once said, 'We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us,'" Edwards said.

"Businesses today are still very email centric, but this will change as we push through the decade and make use of a broader set of tools."

Shoes of Prey and Above the Parapet are two Australian small businesses that use Google+. Shoes of Prey is an online retailer that lets customers design custom shoes, while Above the Parapet is a marketing and events consultancy firm.

While both companies raved about Hangouts, Shoes of Prey said it has found greater customer engagement on Facebook.

Productive Hangouts

Shoes of Prey uses Hangouts for business meetings among staff based in Sydney, Japan, China and the UK, the website's cofounder, Mike Knapp, told Computerworld Australia. Due to the different time zones, they tend to be one-to-one manager meetings, but Knapp said he hopes to hold larger Hangouts in the future.

Video call quality has generally been good, said Knapp, who was a software engineer for Google before starting Shoes of Prey. However, communicating with staff in China requires a VPN to bypass the country's firewall, and as a result there are occasional dropouts, he said. "It adds an extra layer of unreliability."

Use of Hangouts is currently free, though the price will soon increase to about $50 per person per year, Knapp said. However, he said paying that amount is "much more reasonable than having to set up our own server system and employ someone to look after it."


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