Guest post: AccMan blogger and deep thinker on enterprise software Dennis Howlett, offers his take on Facebook as an enterprise, not just consumer, play and patches together opinions from the Enterprise Irregulars:
Facebook is a phenomenon that's capturing enterprisey attention. Jeff Nolan and Jason Wood, two of my Enterprise Irregular colleagues recently provided interesting analyses in an effort to parse what Facebook means for the enterprise. Jeff looked at the distribution aspects while Jason emphasized the platform. Jeff said:
...enterprise vendors consistently put themselves at the center of the universe like an aging movie star that doesn't realize s/he is told old to play the role (think Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct 2). SAP/Oracle/Microsoft/IBM may be the gorillas in the global enterprise market but selling to 50,000 global customers out of a market of 100 million businesses (that's a guess, I don't know what the actual stat is) is hardly going to drive the growth each is predicting.
After spending some time building up my Facebook Profile and talking to colleagues about its power as a platform, my mind began racing about how Facebook (and other popular social networking sites like MySpace) is potentially disruptive in a way that many corporate focused "platforms" really aren't. I've spent a fair amount of time dissecting Salesforce.com's AppExchange, and SAP's SDN, and WebEx Connect; yet none of these hold the power that Facebook has, in my view.
But it is the social disconnect between what is happening on the ground and those occupying the rarified atmosphere of the CXO's offices where Facebook really hits home. Back to Jeff:
Without question the large vendors look at MySpace and Facebook as mere toys and that reflects as much a misunderstanding of what these things are as it does the cultural disconnect that many enterprise software executives have with the broader market. They will say things like "our customers don't use those services" without considering that while the CIO isn't using them it's an odds on favorite that a good number of people in the organization are.
During a discussion among the Irregulars, Jason chipped in with observations by Don Tapscott at the recent Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston. Mr. Tapscott asserted that what's happening is not about the CXOs of today but those of tomorrow and the armies of newly minted graduates who see email as clunky, phone use as idiotic and their work persona as an extension of their privates lives.
At the risk of sounding arrogant, I've been voicing similar thoughts for the last couple of years. In a recent post titled "FaceBook Generations," I said:
I am convinced now more than ever that the MySpace and Facebook generation are going to obliterate a lot of what we understand about business today. Much of what my generation of business people understand about business is based on applying command and control hierarchies that folk like my friend Sig Rinde abhor. I see another friend, Thomas Otter still clings to the idea, excusing himself on the basis 'that's what everyone still does' theory.
That was a month ago. Today, I see a combination of Twitter and Facebook as having the potential to replace 90% of the email I receive while improving my personal productivity. I've become enough of a Twitter junkie to make sure I receive updates while out and about--along with Facebook updates.
Today for instance, I exchanged a number of Tweets with Craig Cmehil evangelist for SAP's SDN blogs as he battled with service support to revive the SAP blogs. They were dead for all of the European day. Craig was tearing his hair out. I sent him a Facebook virtual gift which cheered him up, and he in turn Tweeted his appreciation. That was picked up by fellow SAPper Mark Finnern, who appreciated the gesture. That's a trivial example. So when I think about other events in which I'm involved, the business value becomes much clearer. Here's a selection from last week:
- Loic LeMeur, recently retired VP EMEA for Six Apart, is organising this year's LeWeb 3.0 culling ideas via Twitter and Facebook.He also has a 300 person strong virtual advisory board on Facebook for his next venture. (Disclosure, I'm in on the early beta.)
- I solved four distinct business problems using Facebook in a fraction of the time it would have taken using email and phone.
- Through Facebook I made a solid connection with someone with whom I've had odd conversations on my blog. We discovered we have a mutual interest in respect of a project upon which I am engaged. We will exchange notes when I am in London next week.
- I'm engaged in a start up called FreeAgent Central. We're talking about widgetising our application for FaceBook/Netvibes and other platform plays because that's where the action is and these are places where people are congregating.
The speed at which problems are solved is breathtaking. But what does all this apparently chaotic behavior mean for the enterprise? Another Irregular, Anshu Sharma suggests there are certain underlying principles in play:
- People want online identities to establish trust-based professional and personal relationships. FaceBook provides this but I believe in the long run a third party validation system could provide you with a 'universal' identity (with multiple faces/avatars/usernames) to conduct business over the wider internet.
- People want control over who connects to them and when. FaceBook, email and GoogleGroups provide this in different ways.
- People want a publishing platform. Unlike email, this is information or opinion you want to share but don't want to push in an email. Blogs, MySpace, FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, etc all do this. Email and IM are not good at this.
- Plus all the basic goodies like document sharing, managing relationships (invites, forwarding), messaging, etc.
I think Facebook is to "Online Communications World" what Amazon is to Online Shopping. An almost complete, somewhat open platform. The broader platform is the internet. Blogs, email, Twitter, Flickr, etc. will provide a non-single vendor centric view of this. Facebook can be an anchor vendor in that wider world.
Where does this leave LinkedIn? The way this conversation was going--nowhere. Back to Jason Wood:
When I look at a LinkedIn profile I feel very much like I'm looking at a static resume, and one that emphasizes exactly what a person wants you to see about themselves. When I look at a Facebook profile, I see people who are truly embracing the way social and business profiles are converging.
Note the emotional attachment that Facebook encourages. And in this context, when Twitter borked last Friday, I had a distinct sense of being cut adrift from a community that is proving increasingly important and valuable to me. I had my first taste of Twitterphobia as Craig Cmehil calls:
...an abnormal fear of being disconnected, or unable to send, receive, view or otherwise interact via IM, Mobile or Web interfaces to Twitter, sometimes accompanied by anxiety attacks, uncontrolled fits of rebooting, clearing cache and constant complaining.
Facebook and Twitter are unquestionably the platforms du jour and flavors of the month. They will morph and even then may not be eventual enterprise winners. But for the first time I can merge my social and business lives in ways that are not intrusive, that feel intuitive and which are both highly productive and deeply satisfying. Even Thomas Otter has had an apparent change of heart.
Today, Thomas says of Facebook1, LinkedIn 0 :
There is a message in this for us enterprisey software types. Fun is a user requirement.
Hear hear. I can't wait to see what the reminder of the week brings.