Integrating Facebook

Loraine Lawson

No doubt, you've read how Facebook was used to distribute spyware on as many as 1.7 million machines. Tell me you didn't see that one coming.


Security experts in a recent CIO.com article about the attack are holding this up as a morality tale for business about social networking sites and security -- and rightly so.


You can almost hear the policy memos printing out all across corporate America.


But -- in spite of myself -- I'd like to urge a bit of restraint and patience with Facebook.


To be honest, I've spent a good deal of time rolling my eyes at Facebook and stories about how important it's going to be. I'm sure that probably makes me officially an "old fogey" in the Web 2.0 era, but I just can't help it.


I'm on Facebook, and between Vampire Bites, Zombie Attacks and quizzes prompting me to discover which of the cast of Friends I most resemble, it just strikes me as Silly 3.0. (Silly 1.0 being animated GIFs, such as the Hamster Dance, and Silly 2.0 being Elf Bowling and other Flash animations, naturally.)


But a series of blog posts written by members of Harvard Business School has me rethinking my cynicism.


The first was written by Andrew McAfee, an associate professor at the Technology and Operations Management Unit at HBS. McAfee writes often about integration and enterprise 2.0 technologies -- so, naturally, I try to peak in at least once a month or so.


In a December post, he addressed head-on the problem of security and Facebook by writing about a new application called WorkBook, which basically allows you to use Facebook as a front end for business data.


It looks like integration -- except all the business information remains in-house, requiring all the same security measures users would need to access it internally. In short, nothing leaves your control -- it just looks like it's being accessed through Facebook's site.


WorkBook is a solution offered by Worklight, a company that provides enterprise-class Web 2.0 solutions. I interviewed Worklight's vice president of marketing and product strategy, David Lavenda, in October, so I was familiar with its offering. Essentially, instead of reinventing the wheel, they've added Facebook as an interface for their server and software.


McAfee reported that one company now uses the Workbook/Facebook combo as its intranet -- an intriguing use of social networking technology. The post links to samples on Worklight's site, so you can see for yourself how this looks.


McAfee also shared how a company named Serena was using Facebook as its intranet, which Bill Ives also noted in his FASTForward blog.


These posts gave me pause. One answered my security concerns about the business use of Facebook, and one showed a possible business use. But they weren't what finally convinced me Facebook could usefulness to organizations.


The post that changed my mind was actually written by McAfee's colleaque, Larry Bouthillier, the director of Educational Technologies and Multimedia Development at Harvard Business School.


On his blog, Bouthillier wrote how Harvard built an application for students that integrates with Facebook.


Facebook won't replace portals or custom applications, Bouthillier says. Instead, it's useful because it does one thing none of these do, and it does it well: Facebook provides a social graph for connecting users to each other (his words, not mine).


Harvard used it to gives students a way to publish their course schedules, link to course sites and see who among their friends and other users are enrolled in the same courses. And, of course, once they know that, students can use Facebook's features to communicate with fellow students about those courses.


In other words, Facebook isn't "just" a medium for publishing information -- it provides a social dimension for that information. Or, as Bouthillier put it:

Developing a Facebook application makes the most sense when you're trying to intersect a social graph of your own (such as the enrollment in a course, the list of students with the same concentration, or those in the same study group).

This makes sense to me. I mean, I never doubted that social networking could be useful. But I couldn't quite see how Facebook's version would ever make sense for business. Now, from this example, I can imagine how Facebook, when integrated with business content and data, could be valuable.


My new-found respect for Facebook's potential received a booster shot when I read today's announcement that Facebook will join the DataPortability Workgroup.


I still think Facebook has a cavalier attitude toward security and privacy. But if the company is willing to learn from its recent mistakes, it could evolve from Silly 3.0 to something truly useful, both for consumer and business users.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jan 10, 2008 8:00 PM Mark Mark  says:
interesting post. Reply

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