Somewhere on the Google campus in Mountain View, CA, on some product manager's whiteboard, is the to-do list for Google Apps. Although it certain includes specific application improvements, it's not necessarily the list of features to make Google Documents a better word processor or Google Spreadsheets a better spreadsheet. It's the what-it-will-take list for Google Apps to be ready for business primetime. Much the same way it's like breathing pure oxygen when multiple people are collaborating over the same Google document, it's the list of holes and gaps in workgroup and application connectivity that Google must fill, if for no other reason than for Google Apps to work the way users will intuit they should. In the course of setting up Google Apps for my own personal business (don't worry you MS-Office fanatics, I'm running that as well), I've run into dozens of nooks and crannies in the domain-oriented context of Google Apps that simply don't make sense.
That domain oriented-context is what I've referred to as Google's secret weapon. Most people who have rendered an opinion on Google's applications have done so in the ordinary Google user context. But what most people don't know is that Google has another context -- a private, "domain-oriented" one for businesses, organizations, and even families -- that is not only virtually firewalled from public access, but that also awakens certain collaborative and administrative features in the various Google applications that everyday users of Google's applications can't see. In many ways, this domain-oriented version of Google Apps is a seed that could one day blossom into a full-service Virtual Private Intranet: a private collection of collaboration, document, e-commerce, and knowledge management services all of which accessible to businesses and organizations through an organization-specific portal.
Today, as I wrote in that secret weapon post, some of the raw materials are in place. But, whereas some of Google's relevant islands of technology are still islands, others are just plain old rough on the edges and that's why this special domain-oriented context of Google Apps is a secret weapon. Not only don't very many people know about it, Google seems content to not yet be thrusting Google Apps into the Office 2.0 space where, even in the loosely coupled state that it's in today, it's definitely a contender versus offerings like Microsoft Office. In other words, it's a secret. But its value proposition isn't being lost on certain market watchers. In what I thought was a rather poignant response to the comments on that blog, one ZDNet reader summed up the Google Apps value proposition quite nicely when he said:
For the business entrepreneur, Google's initiatives are economic solutions that are more than welcome. Hosted applications that can deliver data, and do so conveniently and at modest costs, are of more importance to many business people than any kind of loyalty to Microsoft and its over-priced suite of office applications. The time for costly, bloated, continually-having-to-be-patched software applications is fast ending; thanks to Google - and very likely others who will soon follow.
While Microsoft may disagree with the readers' scathing assessment of Office, this does capture in a nutshell the difficulty Microsoft may soon have once Google gives more polish to the domain-specific context of Google Apps. Google Apps could very well penetrate certain Microsoft Office strongholds. But more than likely, it will be the long-tail of global business entrepreneurs who together may represent a bigger market than the Fortune 500, 100, or even 5000, and to whom the very economically feasible (and easily administrated) "Google Office" gets the job done for the right price. "Doing so conveniently" speaks volumes. For example, if for no other reason than the super convenience of upgrading (upgrading to the new version of a hosted solution like Google Apps or salesforce.com requires little more than pressing the refresh key on a browser), Google Apps, even in the rough form that it's in, will appeal to a certain audience.
As such, I've created a fictitious scenario where I'm that product manager at Google -- the one with the whiteboard -- and I'm making my list. This blog page will be that list and I will routinely return to it to add more items and even your suggestions. While I will maintain the master list there, I will use individual blog entries here to offer more detail about each of the items on the list (and will be posting those entries over time). If an item below isn't linked up, it means I haven't written it up yet (and it's on my to-do list).