Saturday, December 08, 2007

Facebook as Corporate Intranet?

Is Facebook evolving into a platform for the next generation of corporate Intranets?

That seems to be the current buzz among some Web 2.0 gurus:

Facebook's viability as a corporate tool will depend, quite clearly, on the development of solutions to two legitimate, current concerns - corporate information security and individual privacy.

Responsible businesses will not permit their commercial information - sensitive or otherwise - to be posted to an intranet without secure restrictions on who has access to this information. They will not likely participate in any Intranet platform that potentially allows unfettered public access, threatens document integrity or challenges the control they must, often as a matter of law and prudence, maintain over their information.

Further, it will never be appropriate to require employees to join Facebook workplace groups that function as corporate Intranets, if doing so potentially opens each employee's personal Facebook presence to employer scrutiny and perhaps, oversight.

Thus, this evolution-in-waiting will not likely catch fire without some basic changes to the Facebook platform, in our view.

To enable it , Facebook will have to get a whole lot better at respecting the critical importance of user privacy. (Perhaps the Beacon fiasco will serve as a wake-up call in this regard).

Currently, Facebook requires considerable and confusing tinkering with numerous privacy settings and individual contact settings to regulate visitors' access levels to a user's page. And even after these tedious privacy settings are managed, many new applications simply seem to bypass pre-set access levels altogether.

Thus, developers must create simple methods to allow individual users to easily create impenetrable public vs private information firewalls.

With regard to personal privacy and security firewalls, Facebook already has enhanced privacy settings on its developmental radar.

On the document and information-security fronts, both Google and Microsoft are now aggressively pursing and marketing secure, online document creation tools that could easily be integrated into a next-generation social networking platform. Doing corporate work online is no longer a foreign concept, and over time, it may increasingly be the norm.

Thus, it is not unlikely that the immediate obstacles to the Facebook Intranet will be technologically surmounted in the near future.

Social networking developers will certainly be placing plenty of immediate focus on these concerns. The commercial opportunities of potential corporate buy-in are, simply, far too tempting to ignore.

On balance, Facebook is slowly, if awkwardly, emerging from its whiz-kid adolescence to become a mature, corporate player. Thus our vote says that the Facebook Intranet, in some updated form, will be coming soon to a corporation near you.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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