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Enterprise Social Networking – Why build when you can buy?

In a recent post on TechCrunch, Erick Schonfeld discusses how an outside organization has designed a new Facebook application to not only replace the university-related features that Facebook removed, but to do so with tighter and direct integration to the university systems.

Schonfeld brings up an excellent point in his closing statements (or at least, I’m extrapolating one):

Inigral will charge a few dollars per student, and in return schools get a way to interact with their students on Facebook in a way that they can control. It is really a group management app for instructors, athletic teams, and student organizations to contact their members and manage events through a forum students are already using anyway.

One of the hot things going on in the enterprise space is that your local MegaCorp, Co. is trying to implement its own internal social network and/or microblog for the benefit of internal employee communication and group performance.  There is no reason that another company couldn’t copy Inigral‘s model except extend it with features suited to the enterprise space.

Think about this for a moment.  If IBM designs an internal social network application (I shouldn’t say if, they already have done so) to offer features and functions to its 338,000+ worldwide employees, and it costs them $10/year/employee to build the infrastructure and maintain and administer it, that’s $3.3M/yr that they are spending.  This is probably a fairly deflated figure in reality.

In fact, IBM went so far as to create a whole software suite – Lotus Connections – that has many “Web 2.0” and social networking features built in.  But the reality of the fact is that this suite smells an awful lot like Facebook in an internal enterprise-packaged form.  The infrastructure, maintenance and administration costs are still there.

Now, if a company does something like Inigral and offers enterprise-related features, but can leverage the existing infrastructure of Facebook and charge substantially less, that is considerable savings.

Now, the question really is – are there truly “enterprise” features that could be offered within the confines of a Facebook application that an enterprise would really want to access?  Are there Hippa/Sox or other compliance/auditing concerns that would make such an endeavor impossible to implement successfully?  Obviously security concerns would have to be dealt with in that only organization employees can view information about other employees within Facebook.

Hopefully these thoughts will provoke some ideas in all of you.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.