Google may have found a way to challenge not only Facebook, but also LinkedIn: Its new Google+ social network will apparently evolve in a way that allows businesses to build profiles and interact with the public.
"We have a great team of engineers actively building an amazing Google+ experience for businesses, and we will have something to show the world later this year," Christian Oestlien, a group product manager at Google, wrote in a July 6 posting on his Google+ profile page. "The business experience we are creating should far exceed the consumer profile in terms of its usefulness to businesses."
In the meantime, Google is apparently "discouraging" businesses from using regular Google+ profiles to interact with potential customers. "Our policy team will actively work with profile owners to shut down non-user profiles," Oestlien wrote. "Over the next few months we are going to be running a small experiment with a few marketing partners to see the effect of including brands in the Google+ experience."
That experiment will apparently begin with a small group of partners, and Oestlien made no mention of how it will expand beyond that point. If Google+ as a business tool takes hold, though, it could open another front in Google's battle with Facebook over the social-networking space, and the online ad revenues that come with it.
Businesses have long had a presence on Facebook, and the company recently introduced a few tools that make group collaboration and communication a little easier. During a July 6 presentation at Facebook headquarters, CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a Skype-branded video-chat service, along with a retooled people sidebar (supposedly to make initiating chats easier) and group instant messaging.
"We are now making it possible to video chat with your friends right from within Facebook," read a note on Skype's corporate blog. "The partnership with Facebook makes fantastic business sense for Skype and gives us an unprecedented opportunity to offer Skype's voice and video calling products to more than 750 million active users on Facebook."
Facebook's newest features, which carry substantial benefits for SMBs and individual workers, seem a direct response to Google's own video-chat service. They also bring Zuckerberg and his people into a closer relationship with Microsoft, which recently acquired Skype for $8.5 billion and already owns a minority stake in Facebook. Does that make Facebook a Microsoft proxy in Redmond's long-running battle against Google? Perhaps. But Facebook also has ambitious, world-conquering plans of its own.
During his July 6 talk, Zuckerberg also painted a portrait of a Web increasingly focused on the social-specifically, the ability to share loads of content. "We've seen this trend since [Facebook] began," he said. In terms of how much data people share with those in their social circles, "it'll be about twice as much a year from now, and twice as much a year after that." That will affect everything from app development to the tools that people use to interact.
That Web socialization offers ample opportunity for businesses seeking new ways to mine data and reach out to customers. And Google, along with Facebook, seems readying to fight for that audience.