Digital Life and Digital Work


I've been spending a lot of time on Facebook of late, trying to understand the relevance of social networks to the enterprise.

The obvious payoff for workers -- a new and better way of looking busy while goofing off -- turns out to be only part of the story. This stuff seems likely to make an acronymic all-star list of expensive but inconsistent corporate software (e.g. CRM and KM) work the way it was meant to work in the first place.

The power of networking with friends and friends of friends is obvious right away on Facebook, even for older folks like me who find that many real-world friends know the service only through their children, and even when social links are established through things like shared movie faves and dopey messages proclaiming you've been bitten by a zombie.

Whether Facebook will be the beneficiary of corporate adoption remains to be seen. The company says it's not pursuing a specific plan to woo the enterprise, although thousands of young workers are forming social webs of their own within companies (there are 2,960 members of the Goldman Sachs network, to choose an example at near-random).

Meanwhile, several purpose-built products are competing to do business with businesses. Facebook's got the early mindshare among workers, but companies like Visible Path, SelectMinds, and Leverage Software may be more viable contenders in the long run.

"Does digital life trump digital work?," muses Burton Group analyst Mike Gotta about the rivalry between Facebook and its specialized competitiors. Maybe it's not an either/or question, and some combination of networking tools will emerge as the next big thing.

In any case, social nets are coming to your workplace if they haven't made it through the door already. Thought leaders like JP Rangaswami are blogging about the topic. Pay attention.

Or, go ask your kids, they can explain the phenomenon as well as anyone.