The enterprise community has been talking about the "social layer," for almost a year. It's the SaaS services such as Salesforce.com, Socialtext and Socialcast that have popularized the concept. Now the practice is entering a new phase.
The enterprise activity stream from SaaS services is flowing into consumer services such as Seesmic and Facebook. And now Google is looking at the social layer as the focal component of a service reportedly called Google Me that will surface activity across all Google products, including Google Apps.
The activity streams that surface information in the enterprise create a social layer that is valuable for the purposes of doing business. The activity stream in this context is a social aggregator. It works. In fact it woks far better than engaging in a pure social context.
The enterprise has always been averse to the concept of using social technologies. It stems from a concern that people should be working not using Twitter or other services to chat about the day. But the social aggregator is a different beast. Activity streams that surface information can help people do their work better, be smarter and more engaged.
The inverse is true for consumer grade social platforms. In the consumer world, the concept of the social aggregator has its passionate advocates but mainstream acceptance has been elusive. On the flip side, services such as Twitter do quite well as they provide what Fred Wilson calls "social intent." Twitter offers people a way to engage in a social context.
Twitter v. Friendfeed
Wilson brought up the issue in a blog post this week in which he compared why Twitter became a success and Friendfeed pretty much failed.
He used the comparison to follow up the discussion from a press event earlier in the week where Google CEO Eric Schmidt talked about Google's use of social information to create better social services and better search.
Wilson cites a post by Mike Arringtion who maintains he has sources who say that Google is developing a service called "Google Me," that will serve as a social layer across the Google cloud. It will be used to create activity streams from the events that occur across all Google products.
Out of this, Google Buzz will become the activity stream that works across Google Apps. When an update is made to Google Docs it is conceivable you could see a notification of that update in Google Me, the activity stream that pops up new events as they happen.
Wilson is skeptical that this form of social aggregation will work for Google. Friendfeed served as a social aggregator. In contrast, Twitter has a social intent:
"I think this is an important distinction. I have not seen any breakout social layers. The social services that have broken out to date have been services where a user has a very specific intent."
In our view, the real sweet spot for Google is in providing a "social layer," for Google Apps.
People need context and alerts. An activity stream with social aggregation does just that.