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December 05, 2007

Facebook on the Intranet? No -- Facebook AS the Intranet.

Bill Ives, who posts at the FastForward blog and also writes the excellent Portals and KM, has just informed us that "Serena Has Adopted Facebook as their Intranet." Ives’s post talks both about how and why Serena Software made this leap, and is the kind of blogging that inspires hard thinking. You should go read it, now.

When I wrote about the business value of social networking software like Facebook here and here I did not envision that it could be a viable foundation for a corporate Intranet (whatever that word means these days). Which illustrates, I guess, the difference in imagination between technology entrepreneurs and technology academics. 

Large portions of the Intranet of  Avenue A | Razorfish, a company of more than 1000 people, are built on MediaWiki‘s open source code. Serena, a company of 800 people with operations in 18 countries, now uses Facebook for its Intranet. I’ll bet than in both cases users were happier with the 2.0 versions than with their predecessors. And I’d be astonished if the new versions weren’t much cheaper than the old.

So what are the good reasons for continuing to invest in and forge ahead with 1.0 Intranets? This is a serious question, and I’d love to hear people’s experiences and opinions. It’s hard to argue that software foundations like MediaWiki and Facebook won’t scale. So are they lacking in some important functionality?  If so, both platforms are extensible by developers. Are companies afraid that externally maintained and hosted software like Facebook will suddenly go dark, or that its managers will decide to change it in such a way as to make it useless for corporate purposes? This is plausible, but the same caution, as far as I can tell, should apply to all software as a service offerings.

Is it security? If so, could you please be as specific as possible about the nature of the security concerns? I hear that word used pretty frequently by people who advocate caution or skepticism with Enterprise 2.0 tools and approaches, but when I probe I often find nothing more than general unease. I have a hard time thinking of organizations with deeper and more legitimate security concerns than the CIA, FBI, ONI, DIA, and other entities now grouped under the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI). Yet they’ve all deployed MediaWiki, blogging software, tagging software, and Google search as part of Intellipedia. If the DNI thinks the benefits of Enterprise 2.0 outweigh the costs and risks, including security risks, shouldn’t the rest of us feel a lot calmer about using these tools? And shouldn’t we take a good hard look at the popular and cheap platforms now available?