Facebook getting down to business in the enterprise

Facebook at Work should be ready by year's end

Can't get enough Facebook?

It may not be long before you can use it at work without getting in trouble with your boss.

Facebook is expanding the beta test of its social network for the enterprise and hopes to launch it in the next few months.

The company confirmed to Computerworld today that Facebook at Work - a desktop service and mobile app designed to connect people in an enterprise - is expected to be available for free before the end of the year.

"We're currently rolling out Facebook at Work to hundreds of more companies," a Facebook spokesperson said in an email. "We're still in test mode but hope to launch more broadly in the coming months. Companies of all sizes are testing Facebook at Work and seeing early signs of increased productivity both on desktop and mobile."

The enterprise-focused service has been in beta with about 100 companies since January, though the build-out of the project has been in the works for nearly a year.

Facebook at Work is reportedly designed to give users the same look, feel and functions as the personal social network they're likely fairly familiar with. However, the company has said users' enterprise pages won't be connected with their personal pages and information won't be shared between them.

The company, though it carries a lot of muscle as the world's largest social network, is getting into an enterprise collaboration market with some hefty competitors, including Cisco Systems, Microsoft's Yammer, Slacker, Jive Software and IBM.

While the market for collaboration software was pretty hot and active several years ago, it has quieted down considerably, said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group.

"I think there are two things in play here," Olds said. "The first thing is that most workers are about as involved with social networking as they want to be. Adding another thing for them to manage isn't an attractive option. I also think decision makers aren't sold on the benefits of having their own internal social network."

Most workers, especially in larger environments, already have instant messaging, videoconferencing, and other ways to communicate and collaborate with each other.

So do they really need a social network in order to collaborate more or will adding a foosball table to a conference room do the same thing?

While Facebook has tremendous name recognition, the question remains whether companies will welcome it into their walled-off confines, especially considering Facebook's history of privacy gaffs and penchant for videos of puppies and kids.

The company may have a bit of an uphill climb, Olds said. "I don't think this is necessarily a bad idea, but Facebook needs to come up with a solid set of benefits for this set of customers," he said. "Just saying, 'It will give you mad collab skillz,' won't make the sale with today's executives."

Olds said security may not be executives' biggest issue with Facebook at Work.

"I think customer security concerns can be overcome by Facebook technical folks, but I do wonder if they can overcome productivity concerns," he added. "Executives might worry that most of the Facebook collaboration will be employees sharing cute cat pictures rather than helping each other on work projects."

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