Outsourcing the intranet

I’ve told a lot of people about Avenue A|Razorfish and their use of MediaWiki as their intranet platform (discussed here and here), and there’s a lot of people who are downright uncomfortable with the idea of any sort of non-standard intranet platform, such as allowing anyone in the company to edit any page on the intranet, or contribute content to the home page via tagging and feeds.

Imagine, then, how freaked out those people would be to have Facebook as their intranet.

Andrew McAfee discusses a prototype of a Facebook application that he’s seen that provides a secure enterprise overlay for Facebook, allowing for easy but secure social networking within the organization. According to WorkLight, the creators of the application:

WorkBook combines all the capabilities of Facebook with all the controls of a corporate environment, including integration with existing enterprise security services and information sources. With WorkBook, employees can find and stay in touch with corporate colleagues, publish company-related news, create bookmarks to enterprise application data and securely share the bookmarks with authorized colleagues, update on status change and get general company news.

This sort of interaction is critical for any organization, and once you get past a certain size or start to spread geographically, you can’t do it with a bulletin board and a water cooler any more; however, many companies either build their own (usually badly) or use some of the emerging Enterprise 2.0 software to do something inside their firewall. As Facebook becomes more widely used for business purposes, however, why not leverage a platform that pretty much everyone under the age of 40 is already using (and a few of us over that age)? One company, Serena Software, is already doing this, although they appear to be using the naked Facebook platform, so likely aren’t putting any sensitive information on there, even in invitation-only groups.

Personally, I quite like the idea, although I’m a bit of an anarchist when it comes to corporate organizations.

There’s a lot that would have to happen for Facebook to become a company’s intranet (or even a part of it): primarily sorting out issues of data ownership and export. There’s lots of people putting confidential data into Salesforce.com and other SaaS platforms that I think we can get past the philosophical question of whether or not to store corporate data outside the firewall; it just needs to be proven to be private, secure and exportable.

I also found an interesting post, coincidentally by an analyst at Serena, discussing how business mashups should be human process centric, which was in response to Keith Harrison-Broninski’s post on mashups and process. Although Facebook isn’t a mashup platform in any real sense, one thing that should be considered in using Facebook as a company’s intranet is how much process can — or should — be built into that. You really can’t do a full intranet without some sort of processes, and although WorkBook is targeted only at the social networking part of the intranet, it could easily become the preferred intranet user interface if it were adopted for that purpose.

Update: Facebook launched Friends Lists today, that is, the ability to group your contacts into different lists that can then be used for messaging and invitations. Although it doesn’t (yet) include the ability to assign different privacy settings for each group, it’s a big step on the way to more of a business platform. LinkedIn, you better get that IPO done soon…

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