If businesses didn’t have enough communications channels to manage already, along comes Facebook At Work. Creating an employee-only social network has been discussed before, but Facebook might have the brand awareness, user interface, and ease of use to make an impact upon traditional unified communications offerings.
Facebook At Work is currently available via a private beta and only supports Apple iOS at this time. An Android version is in the pipeline and presumable browser-based access is already kicking around. Employers setup a page and can create separate accounts for people to use with Work accounts or users can link Work accounts with existing Facebook profiles to get everything in one place.
The functionality is about what you’d expect: A Company Newsfeed showing what’s new and relevant, the ability to create and join groups for collaboration with co-workers, and the ability to conduct one person or small group text chat. You can also do event planning and invites. It’s about the same thing you get on vanilla Facebook, just with a walled garden for your employer and the user, who can keep “work stuff” — as Facebook puts it — in a separate profile.
The irony here is Facebook is the last to the party when it comes to putting “enterprise” with “social networking.” Avaya demonstrated an enterprise Facebook-esqeue interface at an IT EXPO event a few years ago, according to my fading memory. Lots of third-parties have cooked up Facebook-like experiences for businesses, including Microsoft’s Yammer and VMWare’s SocialCast.
Facebook is targeting its At Work offering to businesses of over 100 employees. Users need to be aware that the first version of the offering appears to have few privacy filters, with anything posted to the general newsfeed available for the whole company to see while IT managers will have access to anything that’s posted, even on a more private workgroup space.
The good news for At Work is people can use it and likely don’t have to learn Yet Another User Interface. If you are familiar with Facebook — as is most of the world — you are good to go in 2 minutes or less. It provides a company news feed and messaging collaboration, both in a message posting and a real time chat environment. Regular UC tools typically do chat between two people for small groups and that’s it.
What I find intriguing is the current lack of voice and video support in Facebook at Work. This may be more of a function of Facebook going slow with the At Work rollout than anything, since both are already supported in is already supported under regular (civilian? personal? me?) Facebook and Messenger.
Industry analysts are bemoaning the lack of support for integration with existing email clients, scheduling/calendaring, plus a “sensible file management system,” says Analysys Mason. Monetization is expected, with a fee service providing an ad-free zone for business and a new revenue stream for Facebook.
Rolling out Facebook At Work may push traditional UC players to step up their game a bit. There’s been a bit of a wall and/or some lack of innovation when it comes to blending a social media component to traditional enterprise focused voice/video/IM/chat/file sharing email clients.
It will be interesting to see how Microsoft will respond, since it is already pushing a Yammer/Office 365 bundle. The question becomes how well Yammer integrates with Lync, er Skype for Business, Microsoft’s real time communications server. WebRTC and integration of it with Internet Explorer may be the electronic glue to put Skype for Business and Yammer together into a tightly integrated package