Google's new social networking service just a day old, but analysts are already wondering how long it will be before Google+ is refocused for the enterprise.
On Tuesday, Google launched a social networking service dubbed the Google+ project , that is clearly a direct advance on Facebook, the world's largest social network and an increasingly serious competitor with Google.
Analysts say, though, that Google didn't go through the effort and expense of creating a new social network just to compete with Facebook , whose 500 million users put it leagues ahead as the race begins.
Google surely would love to take a bite out of Facebook's user base, but the company also sees Google+ as an important avenue into the lucrative enterprise market where it battles Microsoft.
"We all know that eventually what we're seeing here [Google+] will find its way into the enterprise," said Brad Shimmin, an analyst with CurrentAnalysis. "I don't see this as just competing with Facebook, but I see this as another move into the enterprise. This is necessary for them to really compete in the enterprise."
Google has already been trying to work its way into the enterprise with its hosted Google Apps suite of office applications.
Google has had some early success in that effort, but now faces increased competition from its other main rival, Microsoft. Just this week, Microsoft officially launched its own cloud-based Office 365 suite .
Now, according to Shimmin, Google can use its new social network - with a few enterprise tweaks -- as a collaboration platform that can pull all of its office-based efforts together.
"The one major downfall of Google Apps has been a lack of a unifying social experience," he added. "They've had some social tools inside different products but they haven't had anything to sort of bring them together. This is a very necessary and long-overdue step."
Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said it makes perfect sense for Google to rework Google+ at some point in the near future and redirect it toward the enterprise.
Companies are increasingly looking for more social-based ways to make their employees more productive, and this would fit that bill, he added.
The Circles feature in Google+ would enable people to more easily communicate with and share documents with different work groups or project teams, for instance. And the platform's Hangouts feature could allow users to hold video conferences with multiple geographically-dispersed co-workers.
"Google+ could probably use a more businesslike front end, but I could see this work," said Gottheil. "It would be a rebranding, giving it a more serious interface and incorporating it into Google Apps."
And he added that this could be a big threat to Microsoft and its own attempts to offer cloud-based products for the the enterprise.
"Google Apps makes it tough on Microsoft but adding an adaptation of Google+ to Google Apps, would make it tougher," said Gottheil.
That means with one move, Google has struck out at two of its main rivals - Facebook and Microsoft.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin , or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is [email protected] .
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