Google+/-: the importance of Apps users

This week, Google pre-launched its latest offering: Google+. Not wanting to mince words, its aim is to unseat Facebook as the social medium of choice.

I was lucky enough to be sent an invite by a Twitter follower/ee, which was sent to my Google Apps account as per my begging request. But it doesn’t work. Apparently my organisation does not support Google Profiles, a prerequisite for Google+.

And herein lies the problem. Google first offered Gmail, allowing people to get webmail on @gmail.com addresses. It then extended its webmail offering (Google Apps), allowing you to use Gmail as the interface for your @mydomain.com email address. Poetry.

Many years later there lies chaos beneath Google users’ credentials. For many years, Apps users needed to maintain a Gmail account to access the likes of Google Reader. Reader is now integrated into the Google Apps offering, although there was no way (that I was aware of) of bringing across my Reader history—starred and shared items specifically—in the switch.

But as exemplified by Google+, Apps accounts still do not feature the full Google product set, this time Profiles being the missing link.

I understand, at a basic level, the issues that Google faces. Its professional offering, often paid for, is colliding with its “fun” offering. The former is formal, charged for and supported by SLAs—meaningless SLAs but SLAs nonetheless. The latter is free. If it doesn’t work, people can whinge but whinging about something that’s free is rather pointless.

Coupled with this is the complexity around organisations vs. individuals. Gmail users are individuals. Google Apps users are (or can be) controlled at the organisational level, administrators having control over the existence or otherwise of your account, together with what you can and can’t do with that account.

(Most Apps users I know are actually individuals not exploiting the company-level administration features that the product provides. But the fact that these features exist at all means that they need to be considered in the introduction of additional products under the Apps umbrella.)

It took the best part of a year after Gmail users were presented with the already long-awaited new Contacts interface before it hit Apps users. This is because of subtle yet important complexities around contact sharing within organisations and the like.

All of this means that Google Apps users, despite ultimately being (in my opinion) the holy grail for Google, often feel like the runt of the litter.

But with products as important to their future as Google+, Google will need to get much better at managing the introduction of such products to its Apps users if it wishes them to succeed.

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