Google plays down "Facebook competitor" ambitions


Google claims its social networking ambitions may have been misunderstood by users as an attempt to overthrow market leader Facebook.

The internet search giant took the wraps off its latest foray into social networking, Google+, in June 2011. This led many industry watchers to compare its features to those offered by market stalwart Facebook.

Google+ allows users to group friends into Circles based on their shared interests, swap information with them, and invite them to take part in video calls using the site's Hangout technology.

People always expected us to be building a Facebook competitor, but we haven't.

Thomas Davies, UK and Ireland head of Google Enterprise, said Google+ now has between "300 and 400 million" registered users, of which 100 million are active.

By comparison, Facebook is reported to have around 955 million monthly active users.

Despite this, Davies was keen to stress that Google+ was never designed to be a "Facebook competitor".

Speaking to IT Pro, Davies said: "I think people always expected us to be building a Facebook competitor, but we haven't done that.

"What we have been doing is [building] a social layer...which is woven into the fabric of the [other] Google products," he explained.

As an example of this, Davies cites the introduction of the comment feature in Google Docs and the ease with which Gmail users can now post Google+ status updates.

"We've been adding social graphing technologies into all our products for the past two years...[because] people are looking to have something, [that is] not just an enterprise destination site," he explained.

The company recently added several new security and privacy features to Google+ to make the platform more appealing to business users, including the introduction of restrictive posts and private Hangouts.

These changes are designed to encourage safe and secure collaboration and communication between employees.

"There are significant advantages to be had from being more transparent and being able to collaborate across teams because you start to open yourself up to becoming more innovative as an organisation," said Davies.

"We'll keep adding [to that collaboration piece] and I think it's going to be a tremendous success for us because the Hangout technology is absolutely killer," he added.

Over time, the burgeoning popularity of enterprise social networking tools could result in email and other more traditional forms of communication being sidelined, said Davies. However, he doubts they will disappear completely.

"Office productivity tools used in a different way are here to stay for some considerable amount of time...[but] what we could see is less siloing of email, instant messaging and social signals and more aggregation of the content types that come in and out of the company," he offered.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.