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Facebook at Work? Not So Fast.

Facebook has some work to do if it wants to invade your office.


Facebook not only wants you to use it for play, it wants you to use it for work.

The Financial Times reported over the weekend that Facebook is building a workplace version of its service to rival the likes of Microsoft, Google and LinkedIn for interoffice communication. The report wasn’t particularly surprising — TechCrunch wrote a similar story almost five months ago that everyone seems to have missed. Plus, Facebook employees have been using the service internally for years to manage projects and work-related correspondence.

But there are some potential problems with this idea.

For starters, Facebook isn’t even allowed in a number of work settings. Even though the new product will be separate, Facebook’s tools aren’t associated with many workplace environments. In the financial services industry, for example, the use of Facebook and even personal email accounts is forbidden for both security and productivity reasons.

Facebook will need to convince businesses it can be trusted with sensitive information that’s passed around company discussion boards. That’ll be a challenge as Facebook’s trove of user data often rubs people the wrong way — they’ve made a business out of our personal information, after all. Will CEOs want to give Facebook access to their internal dealings? Probably not.

The company will also run into legacy systems that are already in place. Do you share Google Docs? Do you group chat on Socialcast? Whether you like your employer’s communication system or not, you probably have it operating with years of messages and data that won’t easily port over to Facebook’s system.

On Wall Street, many firms pay over $20,000 a year to license the Bloomberg terminal, largely for the chat features that traders frequently use to place buy and sell orders (or to set up golf outings for the weekend). Some Bloomberg chat rooms have been running for years. Those work relationships will be hard to replicate or replace. (Bloomberg has had its own share of privacy gaffes as well.)

There are already, of course, a slew of startups — Slack, Yammer, Honey — out to own this space. Even IBM saw fit to update its workplace software to mimic social features.

And LinkedIn, while not necessarily a workplace tool, is becoming a powerful sales tool. Reps in all kinds of companies use it to hunt down leads. Facebook could take advantage of the fact that it’s essentially the world’s largest Rolodex with 1.35 billion users, but again there’s that privacy thing. And do people really want to field pitches in a place where they’re used to sharing photos with family and friends?

Facebook is often seen as an escape from the workplace; tarnishing that association could be disastrous. Of course, a lot of this will depend on how differently Facebook Work looks and functions, but why mess with something they already do fairly well?

Unless you’re a five-person startup, changing your office workflow is a hassle. It’ll be up to Facebook to provide something worth the effort.

If a work version of Facebook isn’t free — and I’m assuming they’d charge for it — that would also require sales teams in order to move the product. Facebook has literally dominated the consumer Internet space. I have nine Facebook-owned apps on my phone! Is it worth spreading into enterprise software, too?

None of this is to say Facebook shouldn’t build a work tool. There are so many competing products out there because no one has been able to dominate, and if anyone knows what it takes to dominate an industry, it’s Facebook (did I mention the nine apps?).

The irony is that we’ve all been secretly using Facebook at work for years. Now we’ll see if Facebook can convince our bosses to make it mandatory.

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