Facebook Is NOT For Business…yet

Scott Karp, who I always agree with, has a wonderful meditation (sorry, inside joke) on why Facebook is NOT for business. I agree with everything he says. Facebook is tone-deaf (as Dave Winer puts it) to adults in business.

While I agree with everything he says in his post, I also believe something else: The folks running Facebook (and I’m talking here about the grown-ups who put in the money who dictated that the site open up to non .edu addresses) ARE business people. They know they are in a race with everyone else who wants to become the identity management platform-of record. They surely realize the absurdity of some of the limitations of Facebook that Scott details — i.e., the notion of “friends” is not really a business concept. There are lots of people who I have a relationship with who I feel it would be presumptuous of me to request they “friend” me. More importantly, the grown-ups at Facebook know that the millions of college students who live on Facebook are (as Scott notes) going to be out of school before you know it and they are going to want to have the ability to network in ways that don’t have “we hooked up” as one of the options of how they met. Indeed, they are going to want to desperately “de-friend” themselves of lots of acquaintances who they met once at summer camp, but who aren’t necessarily worth becoming “a part of their resumé.”

Facebook does provide a wonderful sandbox in which to play the social networking game. However, the fact is, we have “lots” of identities that one social network is not big enough to contain. Maybe Scott is right and we’ll have multiple identities on one platform, or perhaps we’ll have one identity that we can move around easily.

My point: I don’t think Facebook’s backers need me to be tell them the obvious. They know that LinkedIn is more dominant in the business social-networking space. However, they also know they kick LinkedIn with the feature set they provide users. And, then again, Linkedin can be tone-deaf to businesses — like for years, they required you to know someone’s email address before you could request to connect with them (in other words, you couldn’t contact them via Linkedin), or, the way if you are a friend of mine on Facebook, you can see my phone number — and even cell phone number, but on Linkedin, I haven’t figured out how to do that. (Note of obviousness: Shouldn’t LinkedIn and Facebook merge?)

I think we’re at least 15-20 years away from understanding how to really use social networking in business. People like Scott and I want everyone we know to understand what all of this is about and have it all figured out. However, I know some important business decision makers who are still klutzes with email — and others who don’t know how to manage their Blackberries so they let their Blackberries manage them. As I’ve said before — recently and often — “social networking,” even on Facebook, which I think is the current “benchmark,” is still about where AOL was in 1994.