August 3rd, 2007

Facebook Is NOT For Business

by

Facebook’s closed platform and data lock-in are coming under siege from Dave Winer and others. It’s time to call another Facebook foul — the notion that Facebook is suddenly a killer app for business that will unseat LinkedIn, simply because Facebook opened its doors to everyone.

Yes, Facebook Platform makes Facebook infinitely extensible, but the core, native Facebook apps and features are ABSOLUTELY UNCHANGED since it was originally designed for students to socialize. The notion of a one-size-fits-all application makes about as much sense as everyone driving the same type of car or living in the same sized house or wearing the same clothes. We all have very different needs, even across different parts of our lives. Facebook is a fantastic platform for PERSONAL social connections, keeping up and communicating with close friends and family.

But business and professional needs are NOT the same as personal needs. I have no need to “poke” my professional colleagues or specify that our working relationship began when we “hooked up.” I don’t need to know about my professional colleagues what gender they are interested in mating with, or what they are looking for in a relationship, or what their favorite TV shows are — these things may be of voyeuristic quasi-social interest, but they don’t help me connect or collaborate professionally (other than maybe topics for idle — or embarrassing — chit-chat).

You could argue that there’s some efficiency in doing personal and professional network in the same place, but that’s only because of the data lock-in. Why can’t I have ONE profile and use it on Facebook for personal networking and have a DIFFERENT app that I use for with the SAME profile for professional networking and collaboration.

Really, how much more fragmented could my professional apps be? I’ve got Google Docs, Basecamp, IM, LinkedIn, Twitter, my blog — how does Facebook help me? By creating and joining professional interest groups on Facebook, so I can stick my professional life in more silos? So I can see photos from of colleagues from a conference? Hello, Flickr!

Facebook allows me to see who is friends with whom and see their professional resume, but I can already do that on LinkedIn. I can follow colleagues’ imported blog notes and posted items, but I can already do that with Google Reader and Del.icio.us.

What if I want to interact with someone on Facebook for business development? Do I have to become their “Friend” forever? LinkedIn is far better for that.

And unlike my personal friends and family, whom I’m connected to (I hope) forever, I don’t want to collaborate or communicate with ALL of my professional colleauges ALL the time.

Facebook is riding a brilliant wave of hype that has professionals of all stripes setting up an account and trying to figure out how to use it for business, but generally scratching their heads.

Steve Spalding’s Case Against Facebook points to Facebook’s lack of universal utility:

It is not designed as a tool for business communication, it is not designed as a tool that my grandparents would be interested in using, it is not designed (like Google or AOL) to be so valuable to the public at large that leaving it would cut them off from the wider world.

The absurdity of applying the same generalized notion of “Friend” to close family as well as to someone you met once at a conference led Max Kalehoff to declare that the “traditional, generalized notion of friend is dead.”

We’re experiencing friends overload, and it’s a tragedy of the commons. The practice of friending has morphed way beyond the term’s original intention and utility. And that is why I declare friends — at least in the social-networking context — passé.

Steve Goldstein points to the endless non-business oriented, productivity-sucking distractions on Facebook:

But I just don’t get the hype, especially as a business tool – there are just too many distractions. The distractions are the kinds of things my 15 year old can be continuously amused by, but to me equate with watching TV (YouTube) in the office.

Let me be clear — I’m NOT anti-Facebook — it’s a fantastic platform and its pulling the Web into the future. But there are very few one-size-fits all platforms. The beauty of the web is it makes it very easy to go niche and address niche needs — blogging has done this to media, and its going to happen to web apps next. Even search still has the potential for useful segmenting for niche uses.

The one-size-fits-all app is your DATA. Fred Wilson is right to observe that his daughters don’t care about Facebook’s data lock-in — but that’s because they are only using it for the personal networking for which Facebook was designed. Once Fred’s daughters develop a professional life after college, they may not feel the same.

OK, that concludes this rant.

  • Nicole

    It's true, Facebook is definitely NOT a business networking site. However, LinkedIn is missing what Facebook IS good at... actually encouraging interaction above and beyond just making the connection. I actually started using www.octopuscity.com for a good combination of business-centric networking, and it also has a free contact manager.

  • Facebook has recently added some advanced Privacy Settings that can help its users share each information (Personal Info, Work Info, Photo Albums, etc) in their profiles with specific friends of their choice. That means, for instance, if you do not want your business contacts to view your personal photos, you can always change your privacy settings accordingly. This thing becomes even simpler when you put all your business contacts in a certain category of friends and just type in the category name (e.g. 'Marketers') to restrict them from accessing your certain profile info.

    More details about the changes in Facebook Privacy Settings can be found here:

    http://blog.facebook.com/blog....

    [QUOTE]But business and professional needs are NOT the same as personal needs. I have no need to “poke” my professional colleagues or specify that our working relationship began when we “hooked up.” I don’t need to know about my professional colleagues what gender they are interested in mating with, or what they are looking for in a relationship, or what their favorite TV shows are — these things may be of voyeuristic quasi-social interest, but they don’t help me connect or collaborate professionally (other than maybe topics for idle — or embarrassing — chit-chat).[/QUOTE]

  • Scott - you make some valid points here, the core facebook service does not bode well for business becuase its inherently personal and people began their usage for personal reasons. Therefore people may not want to expose their professional contacts to all that personal info.

    But facebook as a people centric social platform has a lot of potential for adding value to business relationships.

    The opportunity lies in the fact that linkedin is a pretty static experience and lacks the engagement that facebook provides, in short I find it a bit boring.

    Whats exciting is that the solution need not come from facebook itself but from the development community.

    (disclosure: im currently working on an exciting app that aims to add business value to the social graph on fb)

  • @ Mike

    True - it needs updating. Facebook seems to react to criticisms and according to a recent USA Today article: Social, work lives collide on networking websites (http://www.usatoday.com/tech/w..., it will implement social circles in acknowledgement of fact that people's lives are made up of zones.

  • You gonna update this? It's December now, and I bet alot of you guys feel different by now!

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