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11:59 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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Global CIO: Fear Of Facebook For The Enterprise

Enterprise social networking, at its worst, looks like another way to get buried in data.

When Salesforce.com unwraps a new product like Chatter, which CEO Marc Benioff likens to Facebook for the enterprise, there are those who think "Super, then I could keep up to date better with what my co-workers are doing." Then there are those who think, "Swell, then instead of losing friends by neglecting Facebook, I could lose my job by not keeping up with a Facebook at work."

Enterprise social networking is gaining interest among CIOs, for a lot of good reasons. People are working in far-flung organizations, trying to keep track of ever-more inputs to their businesses, and worrying about losing opportunities that might come from connecting the right people inside their companies. And there's a dash of consumer-tech envy. Expressing his admiration for Facebook and Twitter at last month's Dreamforce conference, Benioff said that, "Once again we've been eclipsed by the consumer."

The fear, though, comes from a very real risk of employees being overloaded, in a way that's different than the generic information overload with which we’ve long wrestled. The new risk is something more targeted--something like "data feed overload," though you can probably offer a better term for it. People get automated feeds from the human resource app to approve vacations, the purchasing app, the travel app, each of them calling for a specific action. They get updates every time a collaboration wiki to which they've subscribed is updated, and they have a dashboard of key performance indicators. All that information comes with an expectation that if it can be delivered, you must be aware of it and monitoring it for problems.

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Enterprise social networking could mean one more source for data feed overload. Salesforce's site promises that "with Chatter, you'll stay on top of everything that's happening in your company with real-time updates on people, groups, documents, and your application data." It's a point I've made before: The risk comes when collaborating, and monitoring the collaboration, becomes a job requirement itself.

Enterprise social networking is not a fool's errand. There's a power that businesses are harnessing here, power that the likes of Sharepoint and SocialText and others are well along on delivering, and that Chatter promises to join when it's released next year. Where we end up, though, probably won't look all that much like Facebook. More likely, it'll come from another feature that Chatter promises--the ability for developers to embed those social media features in their applications. That's where social networking gets more focused, and powerful, for businesses.

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