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Google Docs is not enterprise collaboration

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Google Docs is not enterprise collaboration

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Google Apps is a service from Google providing independently customisable versions of several Google products under a custom domain name. It features several Web applications with similar functionality to traditional office suites, including Gmail, Google Groups, Google Calendar, Talk, Docs and Sites.

Google Apps for business is promoted online as being available free for 30 days, $5 USD per user account thereafter or $50 per year. (As the personal version is now being abolished)
In addition to shared applications (calendar, docs, etc.), there is Google Apps Marketplace, which is an “App store" for Google Apps users. It contains various applications, both free and for a fee, which can be installed to customise the Google Apps experience for the user.
Google are open about their overall strategy to capture and utilise a profile of their users, to optimise their services and target specific content to individuals. While commendable in their approach of optimising services and content it also highlights one important differentiator with their product set. 
Google is clearly focused on the needs of the individual and not on collaboration between people as a part of Social Business foundation.
Google Docs provides an online office productivity tool that allows users to create, share and collaborate with others in creating and editing a document. It is only great to collaborate within a document, just like IBM Docs. But it is NOT a collaboration tool:
Considerations here encompass;
  • How do users find documents?
  • How do they find expertise?
  • How do collaborate around documents?
For example, users cannot tag any documents in Google (or for anything else in Google Services for that matter). They can label/folder files, but there is no (public) tag cloud and any labels are private. The whole idea of tagging is that people who you have shared the document with, can see what it is about. Google adheres the principle of search, so no tagging needed. But what if someone upload an image?

Sharing non-text based files
For upload files that are not text based, or text “intensive” such as presentations, finding them is less than straight forward in Google. A user may try to use the Collections capability (Folders) to put files into context, but other users cannot see in what collection a user has placed the file. Any contextual information is lost for others to see.
This raises another issue: How do I collaborate “around” a document. Where do I leave my comments and ratings? I can star a document, but that is just for me. No social sharing of appreciation for a document. So let me try to add in the description field some information.
Here it blocks the existing text, so chances are that the original text will be lost (or for that matter the tags you have put there). And there is no way I can discuss with others about this document. And it is not visible on what “version” the comments were made.
To make matters more complicated: There is no way in seeing all documents within your enterprise (corporate domain). So enterprise wide document search is impossible, so is looking for an expert based on the search by tag. 
By way of a contrast, here in IBM Connections you see the rating and discussion (collaboration around a file) is properly in place.

When taking a closer look at the meta data of Google Docs I can see with who I share this doc. But I cannot see who has downloaded it, what version, if the document has been reshared (by whom with who) and in what collections others have placed the file. This is in Connections completely transparent (under the tabs).
As I have said before Google is about individuals and so is the sharing of documents in Google Docs: you can only share documents with individuals or a group of individuals you have defined. There is no integration with Google Circles and there is no corporate search over everything. This will make it hard for users to find expertise and knowledge within the enterprise.
So what seems to make Google Docs so attractive?
Collaborate within a document – co editing: a real cool feature to see people collaborate in one browser screen. But that is no longer a competitive advantage as IBM Docs deliver the same editing capabilities. To take it one step further: in IBM Docs you can assign sections to be written or reviewed. This allows IBM Docs users to collaborate with a team on one document and the team members can see, in an Activity, if a user is finished writing/reviewing their section. 
In Google docs I see no controls, so while working on a doc nobody knows who is writing what part and what the status is. So here again the Google DNA of individual focus makes it impossible to collaborate (synchronous or a-synchronous) on a document. The very cool feature of Google Docs is the revision history, which shows on the fly the delta between the edits. But again this does not tell anything about the status of the document.
Google is not a social!
“But what about Google+? ” would be your first reaction. It is a social software twitter/ message board functionality. But that is about it. Here again the person focused DNA of Google does not foster community collaboration. With Google plus it is possible to broadcast your message to your Circles. And you are able to share a Circle with others. This makes it looks like you have a community where you can share information, but that assumption is wrong! A Circle is nothing more then a personal distribution list. 
Consider the following scenario where someone shared their 'circle' with me. 

I can view the Circle and that gives me the details of the people.
As you can see I cannot use this Circle that has been created by someone else. So I can add the content to one of my Circles or create a new Circle. This means that there is no more link with the original Circle. I can add / remove users and Frenk can add/ Remove users and there is no link between the Circles. You cannot save the share message and use it after a while, as the changes Frank makes to his Circle are not updated into the shared Circle. This way every shared Circle is a snapshot in time and is a fork of the original Circle. So in Google there are no communities with members that people can join to collaborate and can be used by a community manager. The only option is to create you own distribution list and hoping that you keep your own list of individuals up to date.
So how about the share functionality within the Circles?
I have share information to a Circle and then noticed Frenk was not in the Circle. So I added Frank to the Circle, but the info I posted earlier did not show up on his wall. So in contrary to a community, you cannot access data that has been accumulated before you joined the Circle. If data has been shared in a Circle or if your post has been re-shared you cannot see with whom.

I can see it has been shared Public or in this case with Limited. So let me see what the limited group consists of: I can see only 22 people and 41 others. I cannot tell who they are! “Where is my corporate data going to?” as Circles can also contain external G+ users. Another thing about the Circles is that is not integrated to Google Docs, i.e. neither you can not see/search all corporate files, nor can you find expertise based on tags/keyword search.
So here again: secure collaboration with communities is not something you can do with Google Services. Communities of Practice of Communities of Interest are not a part of Circles. Circle information is only possible to see from the moment you join the Circle, but you can not see any history, which makes this not a tool capture knowledge for (social) knowledge management.

So what is good about Google Collaboration Services?
  • Google Mail: e-mail service that people might know from using privately. But in my opinion the web user interface is not the most intuitive one.
  • Google Docs: Co-editing in documents in Google Docs, with an adequate change tracking mechanism. Here again I miss the editing management capabilities in an activity. And this feature is now also delivered by IBM Docs
  • Google+: Good tool for message board. Like a Twitter+, with the easy of targeting your tweets to your own Circles. But then again that is about it. No files sharing, no concept of community, bookmarks sharing, activities, activity streams with process information.

Why Do I Favour IBM?

IBM delivers true collaboration. It is in the DNA of all their products. Looking at the features Google delivers its focus is on communication between individuals. IBM delivers true social collaboration capabilities. Delivering a Social Middleware platform allowing to integrate email (Exchange and Domino), Instant Messaging (Sametime and Lync) into the social collaboration experience for the end-user. Combined with social analytics, communities and getting other integration (social everywhere) with activity streams, business cards. 

Looking at the Gartner report about the Fourth generation of collaboration, Google only delivers the co-editing part, but is missing the integration (with their own services and external services).

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.


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