Facebook is topping Google ? If I were an IT guy I would wonder why…

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As you may have heard these last weeks, Facebook topped Google for the first time. Not in market value but in hits. Anecdote for some, beginning of a new era for others, many things have been said about that. On the other hand, it’s was a general public event and many may have thought that it had very few importance for the walled world of corporate IT and did not deserve more attention than a secondera phenomenon.

In this post I’ll try to measure the extent of the news and, then, wonder if it means anything special for corporate IT departments.

That’s “only” Google !

Let’s stick to the facts : Facebook got more connexions than Google and that’s all. It does not mean that “more than the half of all connections on the web took plage on Facebook”. Google is not the web and Facebook won’t become the web either even if that’s a goal that’s not hidden at all. This only fact is enough to dampen some kind of enthusiasm.

So let’s avoid conclusions such as “people don’t want to live outside of social networks anymore”, “Facebook is the web”, “Facebook will replace the web” etc.. It may become true one day but the existing numbers can’t make us draw such conclusions at this point.

Now imagine we’re at an IT department’s place.

Facebook’s force is not that it’s a social network….

A first reaction could be to say “it doesn’t matter…anyway access both is banned !”. Maybe, but it would be like forgetting that what happens on the net always come to  the intranet one day.

Another point of view could be “people love social networks, connecting, sharing…and they need a Facebook-like on the intranet. But this is nothing new”. Not wrong but I’m not sure that’s the reason of Facebook’s success and that businesses have anything to learn from this point of view.

Today, anyone can find on the web applications and services to do nearly anything. So we use many different services, each of them doing something very well but none of them doing nearly everything. Consequence : when we need to share things on these services, we have to rebuild our network, our list of friends/contacts/connections. Believing that this situation is normal and satisfactory is wrong.

It’s not satisfactory because spending our time switching from an application to another, transfering datas from one to another (because, of course, they seldom communicate in an effective way) is not comfortable for anyone. It’s not normal because if a population that is called early adopters, geeks, curious… find that’s ok, the average user finds it unbearable.

What “Mr and Mrs Anybody” like with Facebook, it’s that they can find nearly everything in a single place. Standard Facebook apps like those provided par third party providers are seldom as good as dedicated applications that can be found on the web but they have a hudge avantage : they are all accessible in a single environment and context and people can browse, read, follow and react to every content on a unique page regardless to the application that was used to generate the content. And for people who, like me, prefer to use external and dedicated applications, it’s possible to link them with our Faebook account in order that everything I can do on the web is mentioned on my FB page. In fact I don’t use Facebook, everything I publish there comes automatically from twitter, my blog, Flickr…but it’s transparent for my contacts who can follow, react and share in an unique context.

In fact, Facebook’s strongest force (despite of all its weaknesses) is to have managed to solve the constraints due to information flows breaks and user context unification. Facebook is not winning because it’s a place where people can connect but because it offers an activity stream that unifies all people’s activities. Without this activity stream, Facebook would only be a network among others, but with it Facebook managed to make people forgive its weaknesses and mistakes.

On your intranet tomorrow…

Let’s wonder why some tools, even well designed and conceived, are uderused in the workplace. As explained in the above-mentioned post or here, emplouyees can’t spend their time navigating in the application jungle, most of all when these apps can’t communicate together. They can’t have as many information boxes as the number of application they use while they are “one” person and want everything to come in one and only place. Don’t forget that attention is a scarce resource whose use has to be optimized.

This is something anyone should have in mind at a time when information IT and portals are being reinvented. The only way to make people use tools and to be able to rely on them to improve value creation is to take this into account at every phase of the projects.

That’s also something software vendors should be aware of for the next versions of their products. Unify the flows, bring everything into an unique context, accept informations from all source (even from third part / competitors products).

The good news is that some are already investigating this aera and that the result will eventually be visible on our screens soon. If Google Wave was not mature enough when it was launched, the same concept, reviewed and improved, is already on its way elsewhere. For instance, have a look at this screenshot of the “future” of Lotus Notes.

Much better than our good old mail clients isn’t it ? In the flow we can find emails, alerts from workflow tools, BI reports, calendar entries… In one word, the mailbox will be replaced by the “business inbox”. In my opinion this kind of vision will soon be mainstream (and those who won’t get it won’t be allowed to say “we didn’t know”). That also makes us understand that the “social network” component is not at the heart of collaboration but only one of its dimensions, le whole having to be centralized in a stram that, in this case, takes place in a reinvented email client.

Social media are here to fight agains silos. We must be careful and not to let them create their own.They have not only to communicate between each other but also to communicate with other leagcy tools, be able to generate a single information flow for the final user.

To come back to the initial question, that’s what will make that, tomorrow, a set of applications able to work, exchange, collaborate together will be more used and will be more able to find its place in employees’ day to day work than a patchwork of applications and scattered information.