While LinkedIn has moved overcautiously in rolling out its applications platform, and the majority of Facebook’s 28,000 apps still lack business value, there’s evidence that both sites want to harbor more social networking tools that help us do our job — and it’s about time.
During the last couple years, the discussion around the productivity that social networking technologies could yield was framed too narrowly. On one hand, people said you should own a LinkedIn account for work, and a Facebook profile for your personal life.
There was also a third option, specifically on the work side. Many companies blocked social networks like Facebook at work and provided their employees with internal social networks behind the firewall. These business networks were built by incumbent vendors like Microsoft (with the Web 2.0 features in SharePoint) and IBM’s Lotus Connections. We also saw a bunch of Enterprise 2.0 vendors — companies that built Web 2.0 software such as blogs, wikis and social networks specifically for businesses — emerge during this period as well, including Socialtext, Jive, Mindtouch and Awareness (the list goes on, and I can’t mention everyone).
But the way to derive business value from social networks should be just one of these options: it needs to be all of them working together and feeding (or streaming, to use the latest Web 2.0 term in vogue) information into a central portal, preferably of a user’s choosing.
LinkedIn and Facebook made announcements during the last couple weeks that indicate they want their sites to be a platform for application development of productivity-based applications. The former was never really in question, since LinkedIn is undoubtedly a social networking site aimed at professionals, but they did take their time rolling it out.
When LinkedIn launched their application platform, it set loose nine applications built by Web-based vendors, including Google and Amazon. Some of them were wonderfully utilitarian, including ways to store files online (through Box.net) and sharing PowerPoint presentations online (from Google).
For LinkedIn’s part, I applaud the move, but it’s not aggressive enough. While I appreciate the fact they want to avoid the Wild West mentality of Facebook and MySpace to maintain their professional look and feel, nine applications in these times of fast Web development are pretty slim pickings. But they have to start somewhere, and moving too aggressively might upset their audience.
I was (pleasantly) surprised by Facebook. The company announced last week that it would provide a tookit for Force.com, the platform owned by Salesforce.com that allows people to build Web-based business applications. Using this toolkit, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg told attendees at Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce conference last week, would allow people to build business apps on Force.com and move them to Facebook.
LinkedIn, the enterprise 2.0 vendors, as well as Microsoft and IBM will be watching this fairly closely.
Well, though Facebook still struggles with creating a sustainable business model, their active user base of 120 million is staggering. What if they were able to provide a place to truly interact with not only friends and family, but colleagues (and ones outside my company) all in one place?
I think they’re still a ways off, if you look at the current application ecosystem. One person who does a great job tracking this community is Justin Smith. He runs an independent blog called Inside Facebook, where he discusses many of the issues facing the Facebook developer and marketing community. In the wake of Facebook’s redesign, he set up AppData, a nifty site that tracks the popularity of applications on Facebook.
Facebook Apps still have a ways to go before getting down to business. Here’s the top 10 on AppData’s home page, measured in traffic:
1. Causes 17,746,773
2. Top Friends 17,129,334
3. Super Wall 17,018,437
4. Slide FunSpace 14,037,604
5. Bumper Sticker 7,307,646
6. Movies 6,645,493
7. (Lil) Green Patch 6,283,304
8. We’re Related 5,614,075
9. Texas HoldEm Poker 5,384,589
10. iLike 5,285,080
It could be awhile (or never) before we find a productivity app developed on Force.com to land on that list. And hey, maybe expecting that would be unreasonable. After all, think about how many DVDs or video games you own versus the amount of business software you access daily (most of us gladly own more of the former).
But assuming both Facebook and LinkedIn try to make a push for productivity-based social networking applications, and the Enterprise 2.0 vendors, along with IBM and Microsoft, continue to build them for companies internally, the key will be how you aggregate all those applications into one area (assuming a winner-take-all doesn’t emerge, which it could, given Facebook’s Microsoft-like approach to the Web).
Would it be a Facebook home page? Or an iGoogle-like home page, where everything is placed into widgets and moved around at a user’s fingertips? Or would it be none-of-the-above?
If I had the answer, I wouldn’t be telling you, because it will be a very profitable venture.
And, of course, a lot of people are already working on it.