While some vendors' social networks have been inspired by Facebook, WorkLight created software called WorkBook that requires Facebook. "We built an application that is an overlay on top of Facebook-it allows you to pull in your Facebook friends and collaborate with them behind the firewall," said David Lavenda, vice president at WorkLight. WorkLight adds security by using a business's existing user authentication scheme to authenticate WorkBook participants.
Just as IBM and Microsoft have added social networking tools to their collaboration software suites, wiki vendors such as Socialtext and Jive have gotten into the act by offering social networking tools with their core wiki products.
Similarly, Yammer, a tool that works much like Twitter but is intended for business use, includes a social networking component that gives employees personal pages
Return on investment is a slippery concept when it comes to social networking tools because it's hard to come up with a reliable yardstick to measure the cost of the tool versus cost savings due to time saved as well as new opportunities created.
However, any social networking tool is only as good as the number of people using it, the quality of the information they post on their sites and the frequency with which they use the tool. While some companies mandate that all employees have a personal Web page, not all businesses are comfortable taking a stance that might be seen as coercive.
Despite questions, enterprises-especially those with highly skilled employees working in far-flung locations-are coming to the realization that new tools are needed to build a corporate culture in which knowledge is quickly located and shared. And a virtual water cooler is just the thing to bring that about.