In the time I’ve spent observing how social networking applications are used, I’ve figured out why these tools have infiltrated our lives: the capability for large-scale collaboration.
We’ve got wikis, YouTube, that little thing called Facebook, and about a thousand other tools that people are using to find each other, work together, and reach a never before seen level of innovation.
People have mastered the use of social applications to connect to one another in more dynamic ways than ever before. It’s become natural for us to relate with each other, and manage and enhance our day-to-day lives in this new way. And as our personal and professional worlds become ever more linked, it’s certainly shortsighted to keep the benefits of social networking from permeating the disappearing barrier between the two.
That’s why consumerization is making its way into the enterprise. Workers find that these tools put them ahead of the game, making them more effective in their jobs without having to learn anything new. They’re already experts in the most advanced productivity applications around.
But just because the transition is simple for workers doesn’t mean it’s easy for the enterprise to add social networking to their business model. As we’ve talked about a lot here already, security is a big issue when it comes to opening your infrastructure to Web apps that you don’t control. So how do you make that social network secure?
Let’s use Facebook as an example. As of today, there are 400 million active Facebook accounts. That’s one account for every American, plus about 100 million more. It’s pretty likely that your employees are using this at and for work, sharing both personal and professional information.
Even the most leading-edge government agencies face this issue. For example, NASA employees needed a way to better collaborate, communicate, and share important information, but were challenged with doing this over the very public Facebook. Being an innovative organization, NASA realized that this tool, if harnessed in the right way, could be used for good not evil. Their employees wanted an environment where they could securely engage and share with each other.
While NASA wasn’t ready to fully embrace cloud computing yet because of security issues, it still wanted to take advantage of everything social networking has to offer. So the agency figured out how to give its workers exactly what they wanted without compromising the sensitive data it aims to protect. And so was born “Spacebook.”
NASA replicated the collaborative features of Mark Zuckerberg’s claim to fame, but did it in its own way, on the agency’s own servers, under its own control. Spacebook has user profiles, group tools, and social bookmarking, all available through NASA’s intranet. It’s not a carbon copy of the original, but a homemade version of Facebook that does everything NASA wants it to, and nothing that it doesn’t.
Social networking can be taken to an entirely new level, one that makes it work harder for your business. I think there are going to be some technologies that you can leverage and license internally to build up your own capability for these social networking advantages.
Consumerization came to be because people took control of these tools and used them in ways that worked for them. The enterprise can follow their lead. Take the technologies you like and customize them to your needs and standards. In doing that you’ll find the balance between what your workers want and what you need to design a unique tool. It will satisfy both you and your workers’ need for collaboration and connectivity, but on your terms.