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.

The Fourth Generation of Collaboration Services

Looking at the history of electronic collaboration services we have seen the emergence of several collaboration services the last two decades. And yet we still see a lot of people using email as their primary collaboration tool. With the emergence of instant messaging and social software, inside and outside the firewall we can collaborate a lot smarter. Only why are people still hesitant? Why do end user still send attachment in the email? Maybe it is the habit of working with email, or maybe it is too much work (too many clicks) for doing it differently. This article will provide a short history of collaboration services and describe the characteristic of the next generation.


Talking about the fourth generation of collaboration tooling it implies that there are three previous generations. Each generation added new functionality on top of the existing collaboration environments. So here a short overview:

The first generation started with the email and calendar software. The peak of email collaboration was during the decade from 1990 to 2000. At the beginning of this decade cc:Mail was the biggest corporate email platform. In 1991 cc:Mail was bought by Lotus Development to enhance Lotus Notes, a groupware platform, with better mail functionality. During the decade there was a fierce battle for the corporate email market share between Lotus Notes (groupware) and Microsoft Exchange mail (only).

The second generation (2000-2005) added instant messaging (IM), webconferencing and shared workspaces to the email environment. Lotus Development started in 1998 with Sametime as corporate instant messaging product. This was a couple of years before a broader acceptation of IM within the enterprise. Now we see that with the explosion of instant messaging on internet and in social networking sites that people are getting used to the concept of using IM. It is no longer seen as a nice to have. One step further: within IBM communicating via instant messaging is more important then email. This is not only the way IBMers now work, but it is also in the official SLA: the IBM IM infrastructure has a higher priority then the email infrastructure.

The third generation collaboration tooling emerged five years ago and is still growing. It started with the start of web 2.0, which allowed users to participate on the web by creating, sharing and consuming content via Blogs, Wikis, Profiles, social networking sites and web applications. IBM had internally all kinds of internal sites running and in 2007 it launched the corporate social software suite: IBM Connections. For those of you who pay attention: we are still in the age of social business and here we are talking about the next (fourth) generation of collaboration tooling.

Fourth Generation Characteristics

So what is the fourth generation all about? Looking at the previous generations, they brought new functionality on top of the existing collaboration services. The fourth generation does not add new forms of collaboration, but it is about integration. As we talk about unified communications (UC / UCC), which provides a consistent unified user interface and user experience across multiple devices, in applications, processes and media types to collaborate in real time, I like to talk about Unified Collaboration. The fourth generation of collaboration services is about enabling the user to use the most effective collaboration service via a universal dashboard. It will allow the end-user to use more efficient ways of collaboration then email. Collaboration should be one click away, and when using unified collaboration dashboard, this option becomes reality. It delivers the promise of less email and more efficient collaboration.

Besides the unified collaboration interface, using a unified collaboration console, other characteristics of the fourth generation of collaboration services are described below:

As the world is getting more interconnected, and not only from a social perspective, but also from a technology perspective, this is an important aspect. Openness allows inter enterprise collaboration. This avoids emailing back and forth as means of collaboration beyond the firewall. Openness also allows the integration of consumer and other services, e.g. include twitter messages into the dashboard. This integration will blur the line between personal activities and business activities. Another advantage of using open standards is that it will allow the integration of processes and services to seamlessly integrate into the universal collaboration dashboard.

Mobile experience is becoming a part of the design. No longer is mobile access an afterthought, but now mobile usage is becoming mainstream. This means that the fourth generation of collaboration services needs to be available any time, anywhere and on any device (Mac, Windows, Tablet, Smartphone, etc.

One of the characteristics of the next generation is a mixed delivery of on premises and cloud-based delivery. We see that the cloud is becoming more important to deliver collaboration services and the usage of services will be transparent for the end-user. They just want to use a service to collaborate, e.g. post a message to Twitter is not different then posting a status message on the IBM Connections board.

As we are moving away of the email culture, real-time collaboration will take a prominent way of collaboration, even better it will become the default modality. E-mail will not die, but the culture of dumping everything, attachments, requests, etc. will change in the future. The big advantage is that while using instant messaging it is the best way to get things done, as the recipient delivers your answer immediately.

The capability of Social Analytics is key in the fourth generation of collaboration services. Finding and getting the right information and learning about people you ought to know is key in the era of information overload. As someone said: “it is not the information overload, but it is the filtering deficiency”. Social analytics is not only great to help users not to drown in information, but it can also help in improving the efficiency in delivering information, by giving insight into with whom and when they are collaborating.

Fourth Generation Benefits

So we now have an understanding of where we are from a collaboration history perspective. We know the characteristics of the fourth generation of collaboration services. But what business issues can it solve? Here are some of the issues that it addresses:

Information overload: The growth of data is exponential. Not only are we producing documents, but with the use of social software, we are also producing blogs wikis etc. with content. For mortals like us it is impossible to stay up to date (with this growth rate) without any smart filtering. There are only 24 hours in a day.

Navigation and usability: Within enterprises there are a lot of systems people are working with. Not only do people work in their email, but they use another tool to share documents, work in a CRM system, etc. And most of the time these products are of different vendors and have each their own interface. It makes is hard to navigate and to learn all the different user interfaces. This fragmented collaboration toolset does not facilitate an ease of use. In terms of user adoption: the new collaboration tooling should be ten times easier – as said before: “One click away”. Another aspect is that having the multiple collaboration services, it means that the end-user still has to decide what to use when. It might give some confusion if people use different technologies. The advantage of having one UI for not only desktop, but also for mobile devices, that covers, like a social middleware the collaboration services in the backend, the ease of use and user adoption will grow.

Work without (firewall) boundaries: In the current world, more and more people are using their network to get information. This collaboration is no longer bound to the internal network, but it has evolved to collaboration outside the firewall, e.g. people are using LinkedIn Groups to ask for opinions and discuss , use Twitter to communicate, use cloud services to have web meetings and share files with external people.

IBM Project Vulcan

So what has this to do with IBM Collaboration software? As I read the paper of Gartner: The Emergence of Fourth-Generation Collaboration Services, I noticed that it described exactly the design principles of IBM Project Vulcan.

IBM Project Vulcan was announced in 2010 and is a design vision and is about:

Innovation – using analytics to understand individuals and empower people to work in new ways with the goal to get productivity breakthroughs driven by integration, social analytics and attention management features, e.g. activity streams.

  • Convergence– Unifying the experience to best meet individual collaboration needs across access and delivery models, which means simplify the work environment with mobile, web and desktop experiences, and hybrid deployment mode
  • Opportunity– making possible the next generation of solutions built on an open foundation.
  • Continuity– Building on today’s capabilities and investments of customers for a smooth path to tomorrow.

The goal of the project Vulcan design is to increase the end-user productivity by integrating the existing collaboration services with one user interface and have a good attention management with social analytics capabilities in place on any device. Another key aspect of project Vulcan is the use of a loosely coupled modular architecture, based on open standards and delivered on premises or in the cloud. This will allow companies to implement social middleware on top of their collaboration services, integrating and reusing existing and new capability by choice into the collaboration dashboard, so e.g. it does not matter if a customer is running Microsoft SharePoint with Outlook mail, or if they are running Lotus Notes clients with IBM Quickr, to be able to take advantage of the new collaboration dashboard /user interface.

Lotusphere 2012 – Project Vulcan Has Officially Been Delivered

A very good article has been written by CMS Wire. I am encouraging you to read it as I am not going to create a resume here. To conclude: IBM has shown at the Lotusphere that the vision of Vulcan has been now delivered into the products. In the center of the Unified Collaboration is the Connections homepage or dashboard. This is the entry point for the enduser to find, reach and collaborate. Including social email and instant messaging. Another product that has been announced is IBM Docs, the realtime co-editing of documents, spreadsheets and presentations in the browser. Just like Google Docs and Office 365 it delivers the capabilities to edit documents. IBM delivers IBM Docs in the cloud or on premises and embeds this capabilities into the (4th generation) collaboration environment, which is a big plus over the competitors. If you like try, just follow the link to the beta site here.

So now the waiting for Connections 4, which is now in beta, has started.