More Google Enterprise Apps On the Way; Search Behind the Firewall

In a sort of pre-announce, pre-announce, Schmidt said:

The business is growing very quickly. We’ve added all these new features. It makes sense now to just keep adding more Google to the Google-in-a-box. So a reasonable expectation is that more and more of what’s on Google will be available in the blue box. And that’ll keep them busy for years. Because when you do that inside of a company, you have a higher level of security and privacy and all that stuff. … Imagine the evolution of this product line. It gets very interesting. Without pre-announcing anything, it seems like a no-brainer. You have lots of these things sitting around inside all these guys’ networks. Just think of the strategic value of that to Google.

That’d be exciting.

Back in Jan. or Feb., thanks to an internal weblog post I made and an eager to help out VP at work, we got ourselves a Google mini at work. So far, it’s been fantastic. People send in emails all the time saying how much they like and use the search. Having search behind the firewall, real, works-out-of-the-box search is a sort of major event for an intranet.

With Search, Unstructured Intranets are OK

In a company as large as mine, there’s 100,000’s of web pages on the intranet (and 100,000’s more that I filter out of the search). With that many documents, and so many people, it’s difficult for people to add lots of helpful structure to all those URLs. Sure, there are plenty of systems that are highly structured (like project pages), but anyone/team can start up a web server, and often do, to host any sort of document. Worse, once you setup a structured page, it’s care and feeding often go by the way side: internal documents are always a much lower priority than external releases, i.e., money-makers.

From this, we might derive Coté’s Theory of Intranet Content, which goes: “you’ll never be able to structure everything effectively, so you might as well not try…very hard.” Therefore, unless you have search to layer over all that, it’s impossible to find what you want as quickly as you want. Thus, you need search. Q.E.D.

The Google mini has been the answer to that. Indeed, as the theory hint at, it almost makes all the structured sites (and apps we use to create them) kind of gratuitous. Just like GMail, Bloomba, or LookOut: once you add a search box to your email, all those folders aren’t really needed. (At best, folders are just 1-1 tags…but, you want 1-many tag-as-folders, of course.) Once you don’t need folders — because you have search — you don’t really need structure.

Simplifying the Intranet

Of course, some structure is required to simply make creating and hosting content as easy as possible. You need a light content management system. So far, in my opinion, the answer to that light-CMS has is to use wiki’s and optionally,
weblogs*. With a wiki, creating a document is as easy as clicking “Edit This Page.” And a weblog has an inherent stream of content that’s a natural fit for people’s desire to get streams of content about relevant topics/people. Once you add search to that mix, you just about solve all your Enterprise intranet problems:

  • Employees/users can easily/quickly create documents on the wiki.
  • Because the documents are on the wiki, documents can easily refer/link to each other.
  • Because wikis are open, those documents are instantly available to anyone who wants to read them — no more documents being locked up and lost in the email blackhole.
  • Instead of using email lists, or long CC:’s to broadcast out information, have discussions, innovate, or just get people talking to each other, everyone simply broadcasts via their weblog.
  • Bonus Feature: because the wiki, search, and blogs are all web applications, people don’t need to install anything on their desktop except a web browser. Meaning you don’t have upgrade worries, security problems, and (following the Google and open source wiki pricing models) a very simple pricing scheme to follow.
  • Bonus Feature: though most wikis, blogs, and search don’t waste time worrying about internal DRM (“only team A can see these pages, while team B and team C can see these pages, along with person X.”), you can still quickly do information management/deletion when you need to. Because all these services are centralized, if you want to go and delete some sensitive document, you just go into each system and delete it. Compare this to hunting down a sensitive document that needs to be virtually-shredded in every employees inbox, desktop, USB thumb-drive, home computer, etc.
  • Bonus Feature: linked to the previous point, there’s better, even instant, “employee access to data life-cycle management”; that is, when an employee quits, you want to pull all access to sensitive data. In the case of all these web apps, the employee never really downloads any thing, everything is on the intranet. So, to cut off their access to all that info, you just cut off their intranet access.

A few of those points are a bit forced, but I think you get the idea.

(As I’ve posted before, my experience with weblogs behind the fire-wall hasn’t been a huge success quantity wise, but quality wise it’s been great: if it weren’t for the weblogs, we wouldn’t have gotten the Google mini. It’s taken several years for the wiki to really become a core part of the groups I work in, and I suspect the same will be true for weblogs.)

More Blue Box Applications

Of course, what’s even more exciting about the above quote is the promise of having more Google apps available behind the firewall.

First off, we’d want GMail. No one really likes Outlook/Exchange, but everyone uses it (probably because everyone has those big Microsoft site licenses). As many people have noted, if you just throw in Calendaring that works as well as Outlook/Exchange, you’d have the full Email/Calendaring package that you need. And if the Google story continues to be the same, it’ll be both cheaper and more simple than Outlook/Exchange.

Google Groups would be another nice thing to have. There are tons of email lists behind the firewall, and if you use Outlook/Exchange, there’s really no good way to say, “put the archives of this lists on a web page so everyone can read/search them.” Not to mention the fact that once you reach those damn email storage quotas, you’re forced to start blowing away all those emails with all that important info in them that you’ve been trying to save.

And, of course, there’s Blogger.

Indeed, one could see that Google would simply create a “Collab Blue Box” that just loaded all those things together, with search. And, if they priced it as well as they do the Google mini, it’d sure be an intranet app killer. Even Outlook/Exchange if they could get a story that all the check-signers and IT guys believe in enough to make the switch.

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