I wrote a while back that Facebook is not for business, i.e it’s not clear how an application designed for socializing among students could be used — without any customization — by professionals. There a bit of data and more buzz coming out that offers support for that thesis.

Users fell 5% to 8.5 million in January from 8.9 million in December, according to data from Nielsen Online. (Via BBC)

I suspect the same thing was happening in newsrooms – and other workplaces – across Britain, as an older generation decided that if the kids were finding it impossible to run their lives without Facebook, it must be worth trying. That all helped propel Mark Zuckerberg’s company to the top of the social networking league in the UK, with 8.9 million users by the end of 2007. But by then I was already finding that many of my wrinklier Facebook friends had tired of the ceaseless vampire-biting, hugging, poking and other daft aspects of the increasingly cluttered and annoying site. Their status updates started to say “…falling out of love with Facebook” and then they disappeared altogether. (Via BBC dot life)

To be clear, I’m not saying that social networking is not for business — this is an issue of application design, where one size most certainly does not fit all. Just because Mark Zuckerberg wears jeans and flip flops doesn’t mean that’s appropriate for all business professionals, and just because Facebook is great application for sharing ones personal life with close friends and family doesn’t mean it’s useful or appropriate in a business context.

I think the big problem for Facebook is that it’s not clear what it is you can DO with Facebook in a business context that you can’t do with LinkedIn or, dare I say it, email. Sure, it’s cool because all the cool kids use it, but coolness should not be confused with utility.

Social networking applications can and will be a killer app for business, but only where it’s clear to prospective users what they can accomplish with the application that they can’t accomplish without it.

In short: How will this social networking application help me do my job better?

Generic social networking features — friends, message walls, groups — can help professionals connect and share information, but the promise of cheap, flexible application development is being able to create precisely the right tools for the job.

For instance, with Publish2, we designed the application to help journalists, editors, and newsrooms do their jobs better — help them organize story research, stay on top of news on their beats, and collaborate on creating news aggregation editorial products. We’re building the social network feature around the process of journalism (both traditional methods and new, innovative approaches), rather than trying to shoehorn journalism into some generic template.

I think you’re going to see more social networking sites go vertical, but they will be customized in large and small ways to the type of collaboration they are intended to facilitate. This will be a big challenge for Ning, which is certainly “good enough” for casual networking and collaboration, but may not pass muster for serious business use.

Facebook’s application platform makes it extensible, but in many ways it ends up being a hodge podge of bolted on features, rather than an elegantly integrated application, designed to optimally serve the needs of one type of user.

In many ways, Facebook is like mass media — and we all know what the web has to done to that.