Social networking took another confident stride into the enterprise when Alfresco Software, Inc. (www.alfresco.com), provider of an open source enterprise content management (ECM) platform, announced late last month that it was integrating its platform with that colossus of social networks, Facebook (www.facebook.com). The integration will enable users of the Alfresco Enterprise Content Network to use Facebook to publish content. It is Alfresco’s aim to make publishing and sharing enterprise content as simple and familiar a process as sharing a photo or editing your list of favorite television series. "With Facebook, companies can engage with their customers, partners, and employees to share social connections as well as content, and track what is going on in the enterprise," said John Newton, co-founder and CTO of Alfresco.
Newton and Alfresco believe that integrating enterprise content management—and all manner of business practices—with social networks is the next logical step in the development of technological business practices. The old adage, "if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em," might be an appropriate way to describe Alfresco’s philosophy on social networking in the enterprise. A large enough segment of any workforce is active on one Web-based social network or another—if not Facebook, then MySpace, or LinkedIn, or one of the myriad boutique networks out there—to compel corporations to take them seriously as communication platforms. Management can choose to ban social network software use, or it can embrace it and, as Alfresco suggests, "harness the potential to communicate more effectively."
Through the announced Facebook integration, Alfresco users can upload and share enterprise content with customers, fellow employees, and partners in a secure and audited way. Platform functionality includes application registration, Facebook authorization and single sign-on, FBML support, and Facebook model support. The tools that are available to employees using the platform will be familiar if they are or have ever been users of Facebook. In the secure environment, they can upload documents; view My Documents, All Documents, or Recently Added Documents; and view documents from colleagues and friends through the Facebook newsfeed. Alfresco enthusiastically points out, as a demonstration of the efficiency of its link with Facebook, that the basic application is defined in just nine lines of code.
"There’s no more important object in the enterprise than content," Newton said. "Content is the embodiment of knowledge. All of that stuff we’ve always had—audit trails, workflows—if we look at it slightly differently, if we look at who updated it and when, we can gain a lot of interesting and important information. It gives us a proactive view of what’s happening in enterprise." Newton believes that the introduction of Facebook’s set of social and collaborative capabilities into the enterprise will open businesses up to new ideas and make processes more efficient.
Alfresco is confident that Web 2.0 technologies will revolutionize the enterprise; it hopes to continue to blaze the trail with further integrations and collaborations. Later this month, the company plans to announce partnerships with iGoogle, MediaWiki, and Adobe Flex 2.
For all of the enterprise’s eagerness to hitch a ride on the Facebook bandwagon, Facebook itself has in recent months been taking its own steps to encourage the use of its Web site for business purposes. Some of the larger networks on Facebook include those of Apple Inc., Morgan Stanley, PricewaterhouseCoopers UK, Deloitte, and the U.S. Marine Corps, suggesting that Facebook is more than just a procrastination tool for bored college kids. Last May, Facebook formally launched the Facebook Platform (http://developers.facebook.com), a custom markup language and a set of open application programming interfaces (APIs). The goal of these features was to allow Facebook users to incorporate social features into a wide variety of applications, including those aimed at business users.
Alfresco touts itself as the first software vendor to take advantage of the Facebook Platform for an enterprise application. This may be true, but Alfresco is not likely to be the last, as a steady stream of announcements from companies of all types touting Facebook integrations suggests. Just last week, online media syndication company Pluck Corp. (www.pluck.com) announced that it would enable traditional media companies to link their sites to online social networks. The first media companies and publications to test and take advantage of the new APIs include Gannett, Reuters, Discovery Communications, The Washington Post, The Economist, Freedom Interactive, Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Rodale, and Meredith Corp. The Pluck SiteLife integration with Facebook will be available to Pluck customers in 1Q 2008, with support for OpenSocial (http://code.google.com/apis/opensocial) available in mid-2008.
Experts in the content management field confirm the worth of integrating social networking into the enterprise. "I think it’s going to become increasingly essential for content management to be able to integrate with social media services," said John Blossom, president and senior analyst of Shore Communications, Inc. "Content management has grown up from its roots as internal space for information and become more sophisticated portal environments where different resources from content repositories have to be brought together. The goal is to bring people and content together in single environment. That’s what social media is trying to do as well."More information is available at http://wiki.alfresco.com/wiki/Facebook.