They loved the old Facebook because it was the people’s intranet

Believe it or not, 500,000 people CAN be wrong. The new Facebook isn’t that bad.

That more than half a million people signed up for a group called “I prefer the old Facebook” is proof only of the resistance to change and the tendency for most people to think they could design a Web site better than an actual Web designer. Rather than get into the finer details of what Facebook is doing, however, I realized that the outcry greeting its new look is actually a good opportunity to reflect on what the old version did right, and why social networking hasn’t resonated within enterprise IT the way its promoters insist it should.

The first thing I missed about the new Facebook (and which wasn’t hard to find once I looked a bit more carefully) were the status updates. These had traditionally been running down the right-hand navigation bar, but now either populate the main news feed in the centre, or don’t appear unless you look under the specific “Status Updates” tab running across the top.

These updates are the lifeblood of the site for me, and I’m sure for many others. Even when they descend into something akin to bad haiku or competitions for the most ironic one-liner, they are reminders of people I might not otherwise think about on a regular basis. Occasionally they deliver real news (a baby being born, an upcoming surgery, a new job) but more often describe a state of mind. Sometimes it’s actually used as advertised, to report an activity recently begun or completed. This is the value of social networking that’s as plain as the nose on a CIO’s face, but which few of them seem capable of recognizing.

Forget Twitter and its brethren, forget LinkedIn (true, it’s more of a business tool, but as social networking goes it’s more like a collection of business cards and resumes with little of Facebook’s conviviality). Think of how, right status updates prominently displayed, those working across companies – vendors, their customers, suppliers and partners – could keep on top of what they’re doing and become friends. Not simply “connections,” which suggests an ends to a means, but friends in the sense of people who get to know one another by interacting, whether it’s an actual business transaction or not.

Status updates are as close as we get to real-time information on the development of our Facebook friends’ lives. IT management, at its best anyway, is about collecting, organizing and helping businesses act upon real-time information. Perhaps we should stop thinking of creating social networks on a company-by-company basis the way individual companies own Web sites but think more broadly. Instead of simply pouting about the new Facebook, make some constructive suggestions about how to improve it. Then use that as a template to design something even better for business users. Not another portal for an employer. An intranet for an entire industry.



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