Facebook At Work arrives, but in very limited capacity

Steven Loeb · January 14, 2015 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/3b65

The long-rumored workplace collaboration service is being launched in only a handful of companies

(Updated with comment from Facebook)

For anyone who has ever worked in an office, you know that opening Facebook is a big no-no in a lot of work environments. Many offices have outright banned it, labeling the site as a distraction and a waste of company resources. And for good reason:  Facebook is, after all, a giant time suck.

The company has been looking to fight against that perception recently, through the development of its own workplace collaboration tool called Facebook at Work. Now, after months of rumors, the product is,as expected, finally here.

Facebook At Work has been launched in pilot mode on Wednesday, with apps now available in the iTunes store and Google Play store, Facebook has confirmed to VatorNews. The company is only releasing it to a handful of companies at the moment, however, so its doubtful that most will get to use it at this time.

"We've been testing the product internally at Facebook for some time, and we've started testing with a small number of people at a handful of companies. We're now ready to start testing, bringing on companies to test, and getting their feedback," a Facebook spokesperson told me.

The service is meant to have a similar look and feel to Facebook's pre-existing product, with features that we've all come to know and love, such as groups, NewsFeed, events and messaging. The big difference with Facebook at Work is that it will not have advertising, nor will it track user data.

Rather than be a competitor to LinkedIn, and allow users to connect with any professional contact, Facebook at Work is currently only focused on intra-company sharing, and creating collaboration between co-workers, at least for the time being. That makes it more of a competitor for services like Google, Yammer and the most recent edition to the space, Slack, the company that raised $120 million, for a $1.12 billion valuation, at the end of October.

"There are a lot of offerings right now for communicating more socially in the enterprise. We believe we have created a very unique way for people and businesses use Facebook to share, connect, discover  with the things that matter to them," the spokesperson said.

 "One of the challenges for companies in general is that there is so much information, so many audiences, hard to collaborate and disseminate information. This scales that collaboration, makes it more efficient."

The fact that Facebook has already done this internally, and that it has been "hugely helpful for us in communicating among employees, sharing information in a more scalable way, getting to work across departments and within departments more easily," has led the company to believe that it can "bring that experience to the work environment to create collaboration at scale.

Facebook does have one big advantage: its enormous user base, which includes over 1.2 billion people, as well as familiarity with its product. Those two things should be a big help in propelling it forward and allowing it compete.

Interestingly, though, the company is not taking full advantage of its most powerful resource. Instead of copying the Yammer model, in which it would pitch to employees, who would invite others to join, creating word of mouth inside a company, Facebook is taking a top down approach. It will be pitching Facebook at Work to  the top brass at companies, getting them to buy into the solution, and then distribute it to employees.

As I've said before, it would seem that pitching directly to businesses would be a tougher sell, given the general feeling toward Facebook by many bosses. I can still imagine many of them still being a bit weary of opening up what they probably feel could be Pandora's box.

Given that approach, it is unclear when Facebook at Work will be available to  the public, or if it ever will be. There is also the issue of how Facebook will make money off the service; since it is not putting any ads on it, a subscription fee seems like the most likely route. 

"We're just getting started — right now we're looking forward to getting feedback from companies about their experience using Facebook at Work, we're not thinking about monetization plans. It's in line with how we typically launch products: focus on growth first; monetize later," said Facebook.

This is still very early days for Facebook at Work, but it could be a signal of a new direction, and a new revenue stream, for Facebook.

(Image source: wired.com)

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