Will Professionals Embrace Social Networking Sites?

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Remember when corporate portals were all the rage? It seems the race is on to determine which Web 2.0 tech will emerge as the leading provider of what I'm calling personal portals -- one stop, personalized Web pages that are designed to let you handle messaging, discussions, group members and so on.

Thus far, these sites are all self-contained. They don't really interact with other sites, your e-mail or your work applications. The exception is Google's home page, which can do most of that, assuming you tweak your Gmail account and manage to find a working calendar app. Google falters, however, because it lacks the social networking aspects of 2.0 sites.

But there are signs of growth. Recently, Zoho announced it will offer free productivity applications through Facebook.

If you haven't tried Facebook, I suggest you check it out. It's a fascinating service -- a bit like a 20-something MySpace, but with much greater functionality and real potential for ... something. I just can't quite figure out what.

That's the thing that drives me crazy about Facebook. At Facebook, I can:

  • Leave messages for friends, former colleagues and so on.
  • Post and read messages on "my wall" -- but I'm still unclear on why I want to.
  • Keep up with friends, former colleagues and people I never thought I'd hear from again.
  • See on one page any messages or updates posted by my friends, former co-workers and colleagues.
  • Network and find people I may have known long ago.
  • Update people on what I'm doing.
  • Host discussion groups.
  • Monitor my favorite bands and be notified.
  • Post pictures.
  • Keep up with birthdays and events.
  • Try out various third-party mashups that do things like map all the cities I've visited or let me engage in music trivia against my friends -- a losing proposition for me, to be sure.
  • Spend $1 to send someone a GIF of a teddy bear, flowers, champagne or other "gifts."

It will even search my address book and query the site to hook me up with people whom, obviously, I already know how to contact.


And yet, I can't possibly think of a reason to go there every day. Especially since my inbox and a wall calendar will provide many of the same services.


Zoho's work with Facebook has me re-thinking Facebook's usefulness.


Zoho is meant to be used by students as a collaboration tool. Zoho evangelist Raju Vegesna says:

Now students can chat with friends and work together on homework using Zoho apps, all through their familiar Facebook social network. Working on a group assignment for college just got a lot easier. Over time, as these students become professionals, we hope they will take advantage of our other office applications.

That last part is key. Once, businesses developed software for other businesses. But with Web 2.0, everybody is trying to get in with the college crowd, hoping that when they get jobs, they'll bring their Web 2.0 technology to work with them.


In the meantime, students will enjoy one heckuva way to cheat on term papers.


The big flaw may be that Zoho doesn't actually integrate into Facebook so much as Facebook offers a link to Zoho. According to Information Week, to access a Zoho document, you have to go to the Zoho Web site, have a separate login and, to "share" the document, send an e-mail -- not a Facebook message -- to your buddies.


So, Google documents beats Zoho on the integration angle. At least I don't have to sign in again to accept an invitation to view a Google document.


Of course, sites are trying to monetize social networking in other ways. New social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, TradeKing and Zecoo, are targeting working professionals, according to a recent article on Physorg.com.


illumio, a Web 2.0 technology offered for free by Tacit, takes a totally different approach to social networking. Recently, I interviewed Tacit's CEO, David Gilmour, about illumio. True, you can sign up for groups and you have a profile. You can also send people questions or ask for contact information, but with illumio, that information is kept private.


illumio uses intelligent search to determine who can best answer your question and then sends that person your query. You may never know who received your query. Users can answer your question or ignore it. And likewise, you can share information or ignore it. You never have to give information about yourself on a public Web site or even on a semi-public profile. It's social networking, but it manages to maintain your privacy.


illumio is also nice because it integrates RSS feeds and learns about me without me asking me to fill out forms. Its business value makes sense to me -- it connects people who need information with people who have it -- but it doesn't force anyone to share knowledge. Which is good, because sometimes, it's not in your best interest or even your company's best interest to do so.


Still, I'm waiting for the killer site that manages to integrate the information from all of these sites, plus my e-mail and office documents, in one space. Unfortunately, once it does, I may be too cautious to trust it with that much information.