Social networking sites continue to flourish: Facebook signed up 30 million new users in the last three months. But while sites like Facebook and MySpace might have started out seeking to enrich your private life, they’re increasingly being tapped into by work-centred applications. This week, Facebook and Salesforce.com announced a partnership that will see Salesforce.com’s web applications – for distinctly non-leisure-like tasks such as tracking sales leads – made available within Facebook itself. Executives from both companies (pictured above with a demo app looming behind them) clearly think that’s a good idea, but even after watching them spruik it, I’m not so sure.Maintaining work-life balance is already a struggle, and throwing work applications into something designed for private lives makes me feel uneasy. That’s not to say there isn’t potential. Launching the partnership, Salesforce.com and Facebook talked up the notion of Facebook as a recruiting tool, with people directing their friends towards possible jobs (and collecting the customary referral bonus for their trouble). Part of me thinks that’s cool; part of me thinks it reeks of Amway.
It’s possible that this reluctance is generational. While I’m regularly on Facebook (and even more often on Twitter), I don’t “live in Facebook” in the manner often ascribed to 20-somethings, so I’m not worried by performing tasks in other environments.
And as a putative Net oldie, perhaps I’m worrying about a boundary that doesn’t exist for some people. But if companies want to shift work-related applications into these environments, they need to address those perceptual problems or risk alienating workers. (Of course, not allowing Facebook in the office also has its risks in terms of attracting younger staff. No-one said business management was easy, did they?)
One obvious solution is to use a “professional” social network like LinkedIn, which makes no bones about its work-related character. But LinkedIn lacks the applications base that gives Facebook its stickiness (and makes it appealing to corporate developers).
More importantly, it’s just one more step on the road to update fatigue. I check into Facebook regularly, but I’m lucky if I hit LinkedIn more than once a week.
Perhaps what’s needed is the ever-tantalising “killer app”: a work-related task that makes much more sense inside Facebook than outside of it. If anyone can figure out what that is, let us all know in the comments.