Google Apps for Business is not a team collaboration tool

Google DNA

The mission of Google is to get a profile of their users. In the Google Official Blog it is written: “to help our users get the most from the web”. With this latest merger of all your Google service ID’s into one profile Google knows more about you and the services you use. Google can now optimize their services for you and target you with specific content and adds. Google is focused on the individual and not on collaboration between people. Let me elaborate on this point, as you might think: “What about Docs and Google+?”

Google Docs

The power of Google Docs is that you can share and collaborate on with other people. Google Docs is only great to collaborate within a document, just like IBM Docs and Microsoft Office 365. But it is NOT a team collaboration tool:

Some of the questions here: How to find your documents? How do you find expertise? How to collaborate around documents?

First of all: you cannot tag any documents in Google Docs (or for anything else in Google Services for that matter). Google relies on its search, and assumes that everything is searchable. But as we know that is not true for non text based information. Tagging on the internet allows us to find anything within Youtube, Facebook and Flickr. These are sites where there is not much text in the stored images and videos (often just a title). Based on the labels people share, it allows other users to find the right file they are looking for. And if an image gets more tags of different people it will show up bigger in the tag cloud. But for Google docs it really does not matter as you can not see the corporate files, but you can only see files that are explicitly shared with you. In the screenshot of IBM Connections below you

see the files that publicly available within the entire enterprise. This allows the sharing and discovery of knowledge and not hiding it in a silo. This Content in Motion is discoverable via the search (text and tag). On the left you see the tag cloud. This allows users to see at a glance what the list of files is about. It also allows users to click and drill down on a topic. This makes tagging really valuable, as this tag cloud is always in context of the information. In the image below you see the files overview in Google Docs. As you can see there is no domain file list you can search, you can only see your files and the ones shared with you.

Within Google Docs you can label/folder files, but there is no (public) tag cloud and your labels are private. So no one else can see or search your public files. The focus here is on individuals that work together on a document and not on sharing with the enterprise.

In Google Docs I would have expected tagging so people you have shared your document can see what the document is about. Google adheres the principle of search, so no tagging needed, but what if you upload an image? For files that you upload that are not text based, or text “intensive”, e.g. presentations, you will have a hard time finding it. You might try to use Collections (Folders) to put files into context, but other people cannot see in what collection you have put the file. So any contextual information is lost for others to see. What I found strange is that you can share a file into two collections by opening the metadata interface, but it is not possible to put a file into two or more collections by drag and drop. Unfortunately if you drag and drop the file into a folder you loose all previous collection information. So if I want to let people know what the file is about, I assume I will have to use the description field and type in the tags or information about the document to be able to find it. To get to the meta data I select the document in the checkbox and click on the eye icon and this is what you will see.

Here you see how I have added some tags, so other and myself can give some more background information. Beside the (imho) clunky interface, with scrolling, it 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. the only place for me is to get my comments into the description field. But when I click on the pencil icon I get this:

It blocks the existing text, so chances are that the original text will be lost (or for that matter the tags that have been put there). This is not inviting to have a discussion around a document. And it is not visible on what “version” the comments were made.

In the screenshot below you see in Connections 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): you can see who has downloaded (a previous or latest version) and you can see who has re-shared your file with other people or communities.

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 (with tagging) over everything (files and people). 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 and Office 365 deliver co-editing capabilities. To take it one step further (as I know IBM Docs): 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 of IBM Connections, 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 harder to collaborate (synchronous or a-synchronous) on a document. One very cool feature of Google Docs is the revision history, which shows on the fly the delta between the edits. Fantastic feature with makes sure you can see what has been edited by others. But again this does not tell anything about the status of the document and what the status is of what people are working on within 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. That is social software right?

Well then that is about it: Here again the person focus DNA of Google does not foster community collaboration. With Google+ 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. Let me explain:

In my Google+ stream I see that Frenk has shared a Circle with me and I can click the button View Shared Circle. It will give me this screen:

This overview of the Circle shows me the details of the members within that Circle. As you can see I cannot use this Circle that has been created by Frenk: I can only 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 of Frenk. I can add / remove users and Frenk can add/ Remove users and there is no link or update between the Circles. This fork of the Circle shared by Frenk starts the moment he has send it to me. You cannot keep the shared message and use it after a while, as the changes Frenk makes afterwards 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 Frenk 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. This makes it impossible to join a community / project team and start catching up on the collaboration information that is available for the team. Another point I noticed is that 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 these other are! “Where is my corporate data going to?” as Circles can also contain external G+ users. In the example you have seen famous pop stars in the Shared Circle of Frenk, so the chance of getting spammed as you ended up (by accident) into someones Circle are quite big and you can have a mix of internal and external users in one group.

I have also tried to share files that are in Google Docs, but Circles are not integrated to Google Docs, so my conclusion here is that 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 as you can not see any history, this makes it not a tool for capturing knowledge for (social) knowledge management.

So what is good about Google Apps for Business as a corporate (social) collaboration service?

  • 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. And as we all know e-mail is a commodity. So this is not a distinctive unique selling point.
  • Google Docs: Co editing in documents in Google Docs, with a great change tracking mechanism. Here again I miss the editing management capabilities in an activity. And this feature is now also delivered by IBM Docs and Microsoft 365. I see no compelling reason to get Google Docs, especially the inability to find and search the corporate (domain) for documents and people profiles.
  • Google+: Great tool for message board. Like a Twitter+, with the easy of targeting your tweets to your own Circles. I like Google to share my broadcasts to my circles, but it is definitely not a tool for collaboration: No files sharing, no concept of community, bookmarks sharing, activities, activity streams with process information based on social analytics.
  • Google Apps for business Suite: Would a compelling reason to get Google the integration of the services? Well no: the impression is that the Google Services are loosely coupled services with a single sign on and shared contact list.

So the answer to the last question: I don’t know.


Special thanks to my friend who works every day with Google Apps for Business.