Relationship before conversation before transaction

In the last few weeks, the Facebook for business conversation has even reached these distant Aussie shores – I’ve had few conversation with different people in recent week who are asking questions about its value and why is it different from other networking tools like LinkedIn. In fact, I get the feeling that this is part of a wider conversation going on in different parts of the world right now – so is Facebook reaching a tipping point for business users, or will we just see another injection of ideas that will expand the Enterprise Web 2.0 computing stack beyond wikis, blogs and tagging?

If you’ve missed them, there have been a series of great posts by JP Rangaswami on the Facebook debate starting with Facebook and the enterprise: Part 1. One of his later posts talks about the issue of productivity and wasting time (something I also posted about the other day) – he makes a valid point about the technology innovation process, where people need to experiment and learn how a new technology might be applied and uses spreadsheets as an example:

There were people playing with Visicalc, and they were followed by people who played with Excel. Digging around to find out how it worked, using it for all kinds of purposes. And all around them, people stood accusing. Accusing them of wasting time. Spreadsheets weren’t real work. they said.

For me, one of my main observations from playing with Facebook is that unlike passive networking tools like LinkedIn, you need to be actively logged into Facebook and using it to get anything out of it. Other people have talked about the idea of a Web OS, but have pointed at Google as an indication of the direction we are heading in. Perhaps, Facebook is really where we are heading in terms of a Web OS that is centred on what JP describes as “Relationship before conversation before transaction“.

Unfortunately there isn’t a lot in Facebook right now that can actually help me directly with the majority of my day to day work – right now there aren’t enough of my work colleagues on it or even my customers, there are no Facebook applications that integrate with internal business processes and there is no integration with enterprise data (I’m not saying there isn’t potential for this, its just not there right now).

On the other hand I’m currently playing with IBM‘s enterprise social software suite in their online Greenhouse lab (in fact I’m going to try and cross post this there). If we think of JP‘s “transaction” as an “activity” in Lotus Connections, then I can actually get a better feel for how something like Facebook can work inside the firewall. What I find harder to imagine, unless Facebook takes on Microsoft proportions and lives on every desktop, is how Facebook can really be the centre of the enterprise – its more likely it will become a marketplace than a workplace.

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