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Facebook, the Enterprise Software Company

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In a recent interview with Sam Ramji, vice president of strategy at Sonoa (see "<strong>Where's the Business in Enterprise Software APIs</strong>?"), Sam helped me understand the generational differences among MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn and similar social networking sites: MySpace for my grandkids, Facebook for my kids, LinkedIn for me. OK, I get it.

 

The more I thought about it, there seemed to be some contextual and - for lack of a better word - social differences as well: MySpace for music, Facebook for pictures, LinkedIn for words; MySpace for meeting up, Facebook for getting something done by meeting up, LinkedIn for getting something done without having to meet up.

 

But my easy-to-understand differentiation taxonomy of use, context and target audience will not work if the Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes gets his way. Hughes delivered the keynote address at the 2009 annual National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications conference (available here for replay) and he wants you to use Facebook in your enterprise as well as your social life.

 

In 2006, when the company announced its first round of private funding, its market positioning was targeted at high school and college students. Clearly that is no longer a limitation in target audience. In his speech, Hughes provided examples of how he helped the Obama campaign use Facebook and other enterprise-software technologies in 2007 and 2008 to raise money and organize. He feels there are many parallels with your needs. He highlighted the Facebook platform's security and other editorial-control/synthesis features that make it much more business friendly than the big home-movie-laden Wikipedia that I had imagined it to be. Your sales and user meetings are events, your customers and suppliers are one group of friends, your employees are another group of friends, and so forth.

 

Technically, Facebook is

...a lightweight but powerful multi-language RPC framework written in PHP and running MySQL databases, memcached (an open source-licensed caching system), and a custom-built distributed memory-resident search engine.

Hmmm? Custom-built search engine. That sounds familiar, especially because the Harvard students who founded Facebook moved across the United States to a building down the street from Stanford as Facebook's business ramped up.

 

Facebook says its platform for developers like you:

" enables companies and engineers to deeply integrate with the Facebook website and gain access to millions of users through the social graph" giving you the opportunity to build a business that is highly relevant to people's lives.

Hmmm? Helping you run your small business in the cloud. That sounds familiar if it's an azure cloud.

 

Of course these descriptors really shouldn't surprise me given relationships with Salesforce.com and investments by venture-capital heavyweights, including the highly publicized investment in May 2009 by Digital Sky by which Facebook claimed a $10 billion market valuation.

 

What Facebook wants to do in the enterprise makes it sound a lot like what Lotus Notes, Microsoft Live Business and eventually Google Wave offer. But this space is getting awfully crowded from a market dynamics point of view and an IT staff workload point of view.

  • How many cross-audience networking sites do you need?
  • How many can you support?
  • How many should your marketing department, or HR department, etc. expect you to support?

 

(Note: Although I see a major future competitive battle with Microsoft given my assumptions about Facebook's strategy, Microsoft is also a partner with and an investor in Facebook.)

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