How Far Will Facebook Go for Business?

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In crotchety "when I was your age" form, I recently blogged about my disbelief that young folks would seriously consider leaving their jobs if they weren't allowed to use Facebook at work. I was quick to reference an earlier blog I'd written citing a study that found most of Facebook's applications fell into three categories: "just for fun," gaming and sports. Not exactly useful for business, I harrumphed. So it was interesting to see an internetnews.com piece that references Facebook's enterprise aspirations.


Chamath Palihapitiya, Facebook's VP of marketing and operations, says the site has business potential because "it's a completely different way to envision an HR system or CRM." Facebook receives inquiries from companies that already count large numbers of Facebook users among their staff and want to leverage this activity, says Palihapitiya. Facebook is working with these companies to create some reference examples of business-oriented Facebook services.


One example of an existing app that blends Facebook with the enterprise: Faceforce. Created by Clara Shih, the product line director for Salesforce.com's AppExchange, Faceforce pulls Facebook profile information into Salesforce CRM so that salespeople can view birthdays, favorite movies, sports teams and other information for customers or prospects. It's available through AppExchange. Still, in a sign that Palihapitiya may not really understand what companies want, he talked up the idea of targeted advertisements for Facebook business users.


"Extremely unfeasible" and "doomed" were among the adjectives that David Thompson, CEO of online CRM software provider Genius.com, used to describe the idea of ads in the enterprise. What do other companies think about social networking? Vince Biddlecombe, CTO of Transplace, a provider of logistics software and services, tells PCWorld.com that while his company's tech team is interested in the idea, they've been so busy with virtualization and business intelligence initiatives that they haven't had time to explore it.


Chuck Hollis, VP of technology alliances at EMC, says much of the initial interest in social networking comes from individual business teams, whose requirements are less sophisticated than those of larger deployments. Many existing content management systems offer "a very fine-grained environment for controlling different aspects of a document -- far beyond what any social software vendor is prepared to implement," says Hollis.


Despite the obvious challenges, Facebook isn't the only social network that hopes to burnish its business appeal. In a CIO.com interview with Jim Benedetto, MySpace's VP of technology and one of its original architects, Benedetto discusses MySpace's membership in Google's OpenSocial initiative and other topics. He expects to see more business-friendly applications:


Initially, and because all of these platforms are relatively new, you're weren't seeing an uptake of applications that help people do their jobs better. But platforms grow. Look at the very first applications that were on Windows and Linux, and then look at the ones that were on there today. As the platform matures, and as the individual app developers learn the platform better and iterate over their own development, I think you'll start seeing more applications that are useful for people to do their jobs.