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A misguided notion about "Facebook for the enterprise"

We've been hearing about "Facebook for the enterprise" for a few years now. Lately the buzz has gotten louder with companies such as Microsoft releasing SharePoint 2010. There's also Cisco, which has been dripping out information about its Quad collaboration platform over the past few months, and is expected to release full details at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference next week in Boston.

With these developments, you have to wonder, how social do we really want or need to be when we're at work? The overriding hope seems to be that social technologies have been so successful in day-to-day life that there must be a corollary within our work lives.

I have personally looked at a number of these products and sure enough, they offer colleague connections, personal home pages, watch lists, and calendaring. They offer collaboration, instant messaging, and meeting spaces, claiming that companies will increase their productivity and improve communication. But as of yet, I have seen no statistics that would suggest those claims match reality.

I do not want to suggest, however, that I see no value to social technologies. But I can't help thinking these companies have taken their eye off the ball in their rush to jump on the social bandwagon. The ball, in this case, is real use cases for social technology wrapped around a crucial business problem.

Increased productivity and improved communication are nice goals, but gathering real ROI around this is, and always has been, very difficult unless contextualized around a specific business issue.

I remember when instant messaging was a hot technology that eventually made its way into the enterprise. Improved communication was the order of the day. I also remember working at several companies that very quickly banned instant messaging tools as productivity took a hit with all the distracting messages flying around that usually centered on the best location for lunch.

My prediction for these tools is that very few will survive, and the independent, smaller companies in this space will eventually be bought as the market comes down off its "social high." Social technology will not go away, but if I were a software buyer, I would seek out social tools that address a compelling business problem and really add value to the bottom line.

Giving every employee their own Facebook-like homepage with customizable widgets and instant communication tools might just start the intense "where do we go for lunch?" debate all over again. What do you think?

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