Now Facebook wants to kill off your work email

EDITOR'S BLOG: Mark Zuckerberg's baby is becoming much more than a 'social network'.

Last Updated: 11 Oct 2016

You just can’t keep Facebook off the news pages at the moment. Maybe this isn’t surprising for a business that claims now to be used by 1.7 billion people, a quarter of the world’s population despite, amazingly, still being only twelve years old. There is a lot of talk about its true levels of engagement among ‘digitally native millennials’ who are beyond fickle when it comes to their social media platform of choice. Out of nowhere it recently gatecrashed the local classified ad market putting its tanks on the lawn of ebay, Gumtree and Craigslist. Its PR people are kept very busy indeed

Facebook won’t have 'Liked' the coverage of its UK tax affairs at the weekend. No sooner had the annual numbers pinged into the Companies House inbox than its detractors were all over them, no doubt mindful of the Prime Minister’s comments last week about big businesses - especially those from abroad - not paying their fair share of tax: ‘It doesn’t matter to me who you are. If you’re a tax-dodger, we’re coming after you.’ The Daily Telegraph didn’t appear to be impressed - ‘Facebook gets £11 million tax credit, after vowing to pay more to taxman.’ Its system of booking British ads via Ireland has now been changed and it looks likely that HMRC is going to be receiving far more cash from the Menlo Park giant in the future.

So, getting back onto the front foot, in London last night Facebook launched Workplace, its new business communication system, at an event presented by its VP for EMEA Nicola Mendelsohn. This was highly significant for the British part of its operation as the new system was developed in the UK’s capital, where it now employs over 1,000 people. It has been tested by a large number of Brit organisations including Deloitte, RBS (that raised a few eyebrows as some of the Tech hacks sipped their champagne) and the RNIB.

Mendelsohn said that Workplace was all about speed of communication and collaboration between individuals and teams that are often geographically spread across large areas. ‘Work is getting faster and faster,’ she purred. ‘So there’s a need for more efficiency.’ Don’t we all know it.

What she wants is a move away from email as a means of communication. Reply-all and chains are going to be out as everything happens in real time. Users are able to chat either in groups or privately and they can watch videos and share documents. Certainly increased levels of autonomy and contribution are welcomed by many especially those who are well down the hierarchical structure in my companies. Whether or not such folk get a chance to chew the digital fat with the CEO in real time is another matter.

So what does it actually do? Workplace is a tool that allows workers within businesses to chat and collaborate with each other. This makes it critically different from the the original Facebook which all of us know and is very much a leisure and home tool. Indeed, there are those who go out of their way not be be seen sneaking a look at what their Friends are up to at work lest they are thought be be frivolously slacking. Just so everyone knows the difference Workplace is grey rather than blue. There are also, crucially, no ads on the site, as yet.

It is by no means the first mover into this space. There are now many rivals in this business-messaging market all of whom want to see the back of email: Slack, Jive, Salesforce, and Yammer are among the better known names already out there. But it has the advantage of familiarity: no need to train your employees to use you new comms system - it's just like Facebook. The company says it received 60,000 expressions of interest to test the tool over the last year. Apparently it is going down a storm in India.

One novelty is that this will be the first time you have to pay a fee to use a Facebook tool: there will be a sliding scale downwards from $3 per month per user for organisations of 1,000 users or fewer to $1 for companies over 10,000. A lot of muscle is being put behind Workplace and Facebook does not like to fail at anything.

More generally, the speed at which Facebook has grown has included pains along the way as it edges into adolescence. There have been recent rows about how the viewing of its video ads is measured, during the course of which Sir Martin Sorrell expressed reservations about social media outfits being allowed ‘to mark their own homework.’

Mark Zuckerberg insists it is a tech platform but it has become far more than that. It is the new way in which not just younger generation but many old newspaper readers now learn about what is going on in the world today. It has become far far more than a way to look at each others’ kids, pets and holiday snaps.

In an interesting essay from the Columbia Journalism Review Emily Bell writes this: - ‘Facebook is being taken somewhere it never wanted to go—into being the underpinning framework of a free press. The weakened news institutions that have seen advertising revenue drain into more efficient systems are now relying more heavily on Facebook to provide costly parts of the publishing business such as advertising sales and new publishing tools. Newsrooms reconfigure around what Facebook says it wants, even if this turns out to be a fruitless pursuit.’

Bell makes the point that with this high profile and ethical concerns it now has more than a little in common with the BBC. Who’d have thought when he was in those Kirkland House Harvard student digs tapping away in his hoodie that Zuckerberg was in the process of creating the American version of Auntie?


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