February 22nd, 2008

Creating Customized Social Networking Applications For Business

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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.

Comments (14 Responses so far)

  1. Scott, there’s huge potential for social networking in business, everything we create on our workstations/laptops within the enterprise firewall will probably end up being shared with someone else, either to create value or to share knowledge. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access….what do you invariably do with a file generated by one of these apps?! We share it!

    Even the most old school of the old school corporates (and I’ve worked with them, and been raised by them!) will end-up using social networking, whether they like it or not. We just need a bit more social network mobility so that ‘wall-postings’ are a pivotal component of Crackberry thumb syndrome.

    As for Facebook (and MySpace) – it’s like going to Asda or Wal-Mart – technically they have everything you need, but wouldn’t you rather use a more appropriate, clear-cut, specialist channel?

  2. We are poised to try and bring the best of social networks to a mission critical work-space.

    http://bizcast.typepad.com/clients/2007/11/social-networks.html

  3. I should clarify, by ‘we’, I meant the industry. I am no one.

  4. It is becoming cheaper all the time to integrate social networking features into any kind of online application. Facebook wasn’t technologically marvelous, it was timely. Facebook is the first big fat raindrop on the face of the industry … before the storm really starts.

  5. Nice post Scott: social software for businesses is definitely a trend that will materialize over next year.

    When we announced OpenSocial in november we had CRM partners like Oracle and Salesforce.com, showing that social software is not only about self expression and games.

    While I agree that there is a great future for vertical social networks, I still think offering an API for them will be useful: there are some horizontal applications (communication, collaboration) that you don’t want to have to build by yourself if you can leverage external developers to provide it to your users.

    The Apache Shindig open source project was created to make that doable in a few days.

    Are you planning to implement OpenSocial for Publish2?

    If you want an understanding of the status of OpenSocial, you can find my latest presentation about it at http://wordpress.chanezon.com/?p=27


    Patrick Chanezon
    Google
    Developer Advocate for OpenSocial

  6. I spent some time talking with a LinkedIn founder this week. After that conversation, I kept on thinking, where are the biz apps for social nets? I think LinkedIn, if they do it right, would be a much better platform for biz apps. Scratch that, a more appropriate platform, as people are there for business, nothing else.

    I introduced a mega-millionaire to Facebook recently, totally old school guy. He is quite tech savvy but he looked at it and said “this is it? $15 billion for this?” Obviously he is a bit out of the loop but the perspective was refreshing, he doesn’t buy into the FB fan-boyism which I have to say is quite disconcerning, especially from people I thought knew better.

    I am not a hater but FB can’t continue on like this. Open API or not, the trajectory is off by enough degrees to burn up on re-entry.

    Great blog btw.

  7. Hey haven’t you heard of Virtudex.com? It’s the best business social network. Invite only so here is the pass code – 1Z1code

  8. We took the decision not to use our social network to just make money but to use it to support our digital publication. The social network is used to enhance our brand and to offer support and a place for us to have a touch-point with our readership. This for us works far better than trying to drive business revenues from it as it has in-directly increased our advertising revenues in the magazine. Social networking site is mymuchmor (http://www.mymuchmor.com) digital magazine is muchmor (http://www.readmuchmor.com) In such a small niche marketplace as ours we’ve found the use of the social network to be really helpful in building our brand.

  9. Maybe, like it is explained in an article from Lifehack that I reproduced in Webwareforall. For the moment, the only business use of Facebook would be as an “unlikely” free collaboration management app.

  10. glad you finally saw the light, Scott!

    so when are you implementing Beacon?

    ;)

  11. [...] And, for those of you who have tried it, there’s another big fat “duh” about… does it really work? There’s been a lot of controversy over this last point, especially people who point out that Facebook was really created for college students to gossip with each other, not for business people to connect. Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 specifically wrote about how Facebook is not for business. [...]

  12. [...] Posted by smoothspan on March 3, 2008 In many ways I think LinkedIn has a much more interesting story than Facebook.  They’ve made very few mistakes, they’re trusted where Facebook is not, and they’re well positioned to be the Business Social Network, while Facebook is not for business.   [...]

  13. [...] think it will be the decommification of social networks, which will increasingly offer features customized to particular users, which complement, rather than compete with other social networks a user may belong [...]

  14. I have been “testing” the effectiveness of Facebook on SEO as well as to determine if there are any positive benefits for businesses. Of course the main goal is to drive traffic to a business website.
    I agree that Facebook was not designed for businesses, but perhpas “Facebook for Business” should be developed. Asking for gender and birth dates, and the other annoying things, like walls, pokes, tickles, bumps, tags, and other redicoulous modules should be removed…they are a waste of space and time when it comes to business.

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