With over a billion users, Facebook isn't hurting for potential customers, but a few months ago Facebook started to explore the idea of Facebook at Work. It's exactly what it sounds like: A version of Facebook for your office. The question is: After banning Facebook from your office network, would you use Facebook for Work in your office?
On January 14, Facebook took its first big step in turning this into a product from an in-house idea. The company is releasing Facebook at Work beta apps for iOS and on Android via the Google Play Store. But, even if you think this is the best idea since sliced bread, don't rush out to get the apps. They will only be available for a select few beta testers.
This new version of Facebook will look and work a lot like the Facebook you already know and love and/or loathe. It includes events, messaging, and the news feed. Unlike the social network you already know, however, it won't have ads nor will it, Facebook promises, track your corporate user data.
While you can have a separate Facebook for Work ID and password, you'll also be able to use your personal account. It appears that while what you post on Facebook at Work won't appear on your personal account, some of your personal data and posting may come over to your corporate account.
Facebook for Work will also make much more use of one feature that's not often used by most Facebook users: Facebook Groups. This functionality, which enables you to form your own group to share anything from family reunion plans to how you'll launch your next widget release, has long been in Facebook. In November, Facebook launched a Facebook Groups app for iOS and Android to make it even easier to communicate with project teams, co-workers, and friends.
While we don't know how Facebook for Work will exactly work in the still hush-hush Facebook for Work apps, we do have an idea of what its goals are. Internally, Facebook has been using Facebook for Work for some time. In June 2014, Fortune published a piece on how Facebook uses Facebook for Work.
Mike Rognlien, Facebook's chief of learning and development, explained that with a worldwide job force of over 7,000 employees, "some employees are half a world away and only come to headquarters maybe once or twice a year. Working remotely can be very isolating." Therefore, Facebook work friends can help them feel like they're part of the team and with groups for every department, co-workers, although separated by thousands of miles, can easily talk and work with each other. Roglien said, "There's no wasting time trying to contact the right person for a solution to a problem, just like in the old days, when the company had a far smaller staff."
Does this sound familiar? It should. While many people are comparing it with such newer work social network programs as Microsoft's Yammer, IBM's Connections, and VMware's Socialcast or LinkedIn, there's really nothing new about the idea at all. Older tools such as Internet mailing lists, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and private Usenet groups were being used for parts of this jobs all the way back in the 1980s and Lotus, now IBM, Notes traces its roots back to 1973 and PLATO Notes.
Long known as groupware, the only truly new thing that Facebook is bringing to this kind of enterprise software is that almost everyone already knows how to use Facebook. Will that be enough?
I doubt it. Facebook also has a reputation for snooping on its users. While some of that is unfair, Facebook has had difficulty convincing ordinary users of that. For example, hardly a day goes by that I don't see someone posting a privacy notice on their Facebook walls forbidding Facebook from using their posts and photos without their permission. Such notices, by the way, don't do a thing to protect any posting or data you share on Facebook.
Will businesses trust Facebook anymore than Joe or Jane User? I doubt it.