Wrestling Google for Seamless UC
Google Hangouts is an impressive and frustrating suite of communications. Hangouts was initially launched with Google+, the provider’s inconsequential social network, but was expanded to general Gmail and Google For Work customers in 2013. Hangouts is a suite of communications services for chat, voice, and video.
Most enterprise UC suites include those services with an integrated solution for enterprise telephony. For example, being able to promote a conversation from chat/IM to voice. Google Hangouts includes voice, but has very limited telephony and PSTN services. Although Google leaves voice to partners, it does not provide a way for partners to integrate with Hangouts.
It’s a bigger problem than just enterprise voice. UC solutions often integrate with other types of business applications including CRM, and core office productivity programs such as email, contacts, and calendar. By keeping Hangouts closed, Google limits the versatility of Hangouts.
This wasn’t the case several years ago with Google Talk, the predecessor to Hangouts. It provided instant messaging and presence and supported both APIs and XMPP. Several UC vendors integrated with Google Talk and could, for example, automatically change presence status to “on the phone” during a call.
There’s a lot of history under the bridge here, but it goes something like Google wanting to promote XMPP (also known as Jabber), but it never gained strong support. Google was particularly upset with Microsoft because it added XMPP support in its Live Messenger client (but not its server) which enabled the client to work with Google Talk but not the other way around. When Google launched Hangouts to replace Talk in 2013 it removed XMPP and APIs.
Google Makes UC Really Hard
Even the UC and UCaaS vendors that embrace Google for Work have no way to natively integrate with Hangouts. Most “integrated” solutions leverage Google Contacts (which does have an API) and utilize a separate, duplicative solution for messaging and video.
The video industry was plagued by interop for decades. Cisco, Polycom, Skype for Business now can be made to interoperate. Hangouts much less so. There are a few options such as Vidyo’s Hangouts to Other gateway product. Newly announced RingCentral Office Google Edition uses Hangouts for video conferencing, but still uses a separate app for messaging and uses different video technologies for its other services.
There’s no indication that Google Hangouts will ever open. Now the concern is how much longer Hangouts will last. Last month Google confused many with the introduction of Duo and Allo which are its newest mobile-first applications for messaging and video. Duo and Allo are not compatible with Hangouts either.
Google Duo provides video communications and Allo is used for messaging - separate apps for separate services. This separation, or de-unification, may have been inspired by Facebook’s success with Messenger which was decoupled from its other services.
Google Duo is a real head scratcher. Google claims Duo is better under “patchy” network conditions, but offered no explanation why. It is WebRTC-based, but without browser support, and only works with an iOS or Android client. Allo? Anyone thinking about the messaging of Duo at Google? Hard to believe that Google was the company that until recently advocated the open browser in lieu of closed apps, and initiated browser-friendly WebRTC technology.
It’s possible that these communications tools are not even the main show. In addition to messaging, Allo has a new artificial intelligence bot that “learns” how to respond. For example, if/when appropriate Allo will suggest a response such as “LOL.” In other words, you may be Google’s next chatbot. At least Microsoft’s Tay took the hit for its inappropriate comments, you may not be so lucky. Also, this AI bot requires that Google has access to read and analyze your messages (no encryption).
Getting the Message?
Although Google Talk is officially deprecated it still exists, but most UC vendors no longer support the integration. There’s no shortage of options for messaging as most UC vendors offer their own flavor or plenty of emerging workstream messaging solutions (such as Slack, Spark, and HipChat) exist. Within Google there’s still Talk, Hangouts, Allo/Duo, Google+, and now Google’s newest Slack-like service called Spaces.
Although Slack and similar services are geared toward enterprise use, Google Spaces is only supported on its consumer (Gmail) side. Google Spaces overlaps considerably with Google+. Spaces allows users to post messages and or content and share it with specific contacts that also use the service.
It’s concerning that Google has so many solutions that overlap - and really none that interoperate. Adding to the confusion is Google rarely shares product roadmaps, and has been known to discontinue popular services. Almost all of the Google for Work services are modified versions of its consumer products. They generally start as consumer services, and several (such as Inbox and Spaces) are only available to consumer accounts.
Enterprises adopting Google services do realize great value. The services are reasonably robust, generally browser-based, reliable, and inexpensive. However, enterprises are taking a risk on interoperability and road map. Despite this, core Google for Work services continue to be a force in the enterprise: Apps, Chromebooks, Chrome, Android, and Google Cloud Compute services are all experiencing enterprise growth.