This afternoon an industry source confirmed for me that Facebook is indeed piloting ‘Facebook at Work’ a product aimed at enterprise collaboration and the source told me such a product will be rolled out in a few months.
Back in June, TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden reported that Facebook was working on a business collaboration product called ‘Facebook at Work‘, and The Financial Times reported on a website with the same name this morning (registration required) and speculation began in earnest.
Here’s what we know that’s new:
- While Facebook refused to comment officially, the source says the idea of a Facebook enterprise collaboration tool has been tested inside of Facebook for the last six months and is now being piloted by a small group of companies. They would not name the companies nor could they comment on what the final product will look like in terms of mobile or web-based tool, but there is no doubt Facebook is working to release such a tool in the near term.
- The source said the ‘Facebook at Work’ product would be hosted separately from private Facebook to ensure security between personal and private versions.
- My source pointed out that speculation about cloud-based file sharing in some published reports didn’t get it quite right. “There is incorrect speculation Facebook is building a cloud document sharing system,” they said. Instead they suggested it was a way to work with files in the context of collaboration, not necessarily as a way to compete with Google Drive or Office 365. That said as early as 2012, TechCrunch’s Josh Constine reported that Facebook had added “good enough” file sharing to Groups, while Colleen Taylor reported this past Spring about Dropbox file sharing integration inside of Groups.
A source familiar with the company told me that Facebook was using their own tool internally to collaborate. “We use Facebook groups internally,” they said. “It’s an incredibly powerful system to spread knowledge.” They said Facebook became tool to catalogue knowledge and get help within a given project, while Messenger provided a way to communicate easily among group members.
In fact, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz left Facebook several years ago to create Asana, an enterprise social tool. Since then, Facebook has also gotten more serious about using its tools to collaborate internally, especially its Groups product. Most employees are part of dozens of work-related, employee-only Groups for all their projects as well as company-wide stuff.
The new enterprise collaboration tool will look a lot like your personal Facebook page with a News Feed, Messenger and Groups, but it would be completely separate from your personal Facebook, so there would be no danger whatsoever that the two would ever bleed into one another. That means, no work content would ever appear in your personal feed and no personal content would ever appear in your work feed, a level of privacy that would be absolutely essential for all parties to trust it.
Companies have long recognized the value of enterprise collaboration tools, but in spite of obvious benefits such as increasing communication, sharing and testing ideas more easily, acting as a de facto knowledge base and flattening hierarchies, enterprise collaboration tools have failed to catch on a big way inside organizations.
Facebook has remained quiet when it comes to business collaboration tools, which is kind of ironic when you consider that for the longest time companies tried to sell enterprise collaboration tools as ‘Facebook for the Enterprise.’
Facebook could be betting that what has been holding it back adoption all these years is that other tools have forced users to learn a new way of working in spite of that moniker. The difference maker here could be that everyone uses Facebook and everyone is familiar with it –and if you transferred that familiar Facebook look and feel to work, employees would be comfortable using it and it would catch on in a big way.
It’s not a bad theory. The big question that hangs out there though is will enterprise IT departments trust Facebook as an enterprise collaboration tool with all of the important company information be shared across it –and that’s still not clear.
The source said while there were no ads in the piloted version and the company isn’t charging for it at this time, the source couldn’t predict what the final product will look like, nor could they confirm if the final product would available for a free download or sold directly to IT. All of those types of details were still being ironed out.
Enterprise social tools have existed for years. When I asked why now, the source told me it was simply because Facebook now had the infrastructure in place to support such a system