Google Enters The Social Enterprise With Public Debut Of Google+ For Businesses, Free Through 2013

Following moves that began last October, when Google began allowing Google Apps users access to Google+, the company announced today several more features which are aimed at pushing Google-branded social experiences deeper into the business world. Specifically, the company is rolling out support for restricted sharing options, video meetings integrated with other Google products like Gmail, Calendar and Docs, and additional administrative controls within Google+ with today’s public launch of Google+’s enterprise offering.

Google’s Vice President of Enterprise Amit Singh told TechCrunch in December that the company was already using Google+ as a collaboration platform internally, and promised at the time that it would bring Google+ to the enterprise market in 2012. “Google+ is the next big thing for the enterprise,” he said at the time. “We are going to do the same thing with Google+ that we’ve done with Gmail, and other consumer-facing apps so that Google+ can be adopted in more of enterprise setting.”

Today, Clay Bavor, Product Management Director, Google Apps writes on the Google Enterprise Blog, that Google is now ready to move some of the Google+ enterprise features into a “full preview” mode, meaning that any organization that has adopted Google Apps can now try these features for free until the end of 2013. That’s a key bit of information, since it implies that Google does plan to eventually charge for the social collaboration tools, similar as to how it charges for its online productivity tools today, including Gmail, Calendar, and Docs. And Google already has inroads to adoption for this market, given how tightly Google+ is baked into its other business-friendly products.

The initial tools which are rolling out now are only the first of several, says Bavor, who adds that Google will continue to add more features and admin controls in time. Some companies have already been pilot testing the enterprise features, including  Kaplan and Banshee Wines, he says.

As for what exactly is being opened up today for all Google Apps users to try? First is private sharing, which allows users to mark posts as “restricted,” making them private to their organization and disallowing the ability to re-share them externally. These posts can also be shared with individual outside partners or colleagues, if need be.

Video meetings (aka “Hangouts” in Google lingo), which is the group chat feature that allows up to 10 users to face-to-face chat over webcams or smartphones is now integrated with Gmail in Google Apps, Calendar and Docs for Google Apps users. Like the private sharing feature above, this isn’t really just a business-only option – Google added Google+ Hangouts to Gmail in July, for example. Hangouts are also supported in Google Calendar.

Finally, Bavor talks about additional administrative controls for business users. This is the most critical part to the service, from I.T.’s perspective at least. As with Google Apps, the admin controls for Google+ allow companies to set defaults for post restrictions, and they can enable restricted Hangouts for private company meetings. Details on pricing and what’s planned next are not yet available, but companies working in the social enterprise space – including Jive, Microsoft-acquired Yammer, and Salesforce, are being put on notice.