Google is planning further integration between Google+ (or Google Plus) and Gmail, along with a business edition of its emerging social networking service, two moves that could give Google's line-up a big leg up against Facebook, Twitter, and even cloud-based office suites such as Microsoft's new Office 365.
As so often happens, Google announced both news tidbits about Google+ through blog posts on its Web site. Late Sunday night, Mark Striebeck, engineering manager for Gmail front end, announced a "hangout" on Tuesday afternoon for developers to do some "creative brainstorming" around how to get better integration between Google+ and Gmail.
Striebeck told the developers: "I'm pretty sure that all of you use some email client - many probably Gmail. But regardless of the client ... What email features would make it easier to interact with Google+ ? ... How could we integrate Google+ features into Gmail? ... How can we integrate social concepts in Gmail to make the email experience itself better?"
Google : "Hangout" video chat, Picasa, and Gmail
Google+ is currently in 'invite-only' test mode. The current pre-release version incorporates a "hangout" feature for video chat and YouTube video sharing. It wouldn't be surprising if "hangout" helped to drive last week's announcement of a video chat deal between Facebook and the now Microsoft-owned Skype. In unveiling the deal through a Webcast, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pointed out that Facebook and Microsoft have teamed up before on multiple occasions, even prior to Microsoft's Skype buyout.
Aside from hangout, the pre-release software also incorporates Gmail, along with Google Blogger and the Picasa photo sharing service, two other Google software offerings expected to see further integration into Google Plus at some point. Unlike either Twitter or Facebook, Google's blog space places no limits on the length of users' blogs.
Through greater integration between Gmail and Google+, Google stands to raise Gmail's competitive stature against other email services and even Microsoft's new Office 365, a cloud-based office suite revolving around Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync servers and Microsoft Office applications.
Not only is Gmail a competitor of sorts to Exchange, but Google Docs is a direct rival to Microsoft Office. For its part, Google Docs has recently added a number of new features, including the ability to embed videos from Picasa, for example.
Meanwhile, although Microsoft is still planning data services integration between Windows Phone 7 smartphones, iPhones, and other mobile devices and its socially tinged Lync collaborative environment, the pre-release edition of Google Plus already includes an app for Android OS phones.
Business Edition: More of a boon to businesses or consumers?
In another point of departure from Facebook and Twitter, Google is also eyeing a separate business product around its Google+ social networking service.
In a blog post last week, Google' Christian Oestlien said Google will discourage businesses from building "regular" profiles, and that it will even shut down any such profiles.
"The business experience we are creating should far exceed the consumer profile in terms of its usefulness," according to Ostlein.
"How users communicate with each other is different from how they communicate with brands, and we want to create an optimal experience for both. We have a great team of engineers actively building an amazing Google+ experience for businesses, and we will have something to show the world later this year," he wrote.
"Over the next few months we are going to be running a small experiment with a few marketing partners to see the effect of including brands in the Google+ experience. We’ll begin this pilot with a small number of named partners. If you represent a 'non-user entity' (e.g. business, organization, place, team, etc.) and would like to apply for consideration in our limited program (and be amongst the first to be alerted when the business product launches) you can sign up here: http://goo.gl/zq95C."
With details sketchy at this point, it's hard to say how a separate business edition of Google Plus will benefit businesses. However, "regular" users will certainly score a win if this separate edition makes it easy to tell whether blog posts on the social network are from other consumers or professional marketers.
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