Facebook Messaging with Office Apps: Business Ready?

Microsoft's Office Apps have been thoroughly baked into Facebook's revamped messaging platform. Does that make Facebook more attractive as a business portal?

Facebook's U.S. traffic rose 55 percent in the last year, with its number of visitors rising from 97.37 million to 151.13 million, according to analytics firm ComScore.

Combined with Facebook's revamped messaging platform, does the social network's seemingly ever-increasing popularity mean it will become more attractive as a business tool? A number of corporations already leverage Facebook as part of their online presence, but a lesser percentage utilizes its offerings for daily workflow.

Facebook's revamped messaging platform now offers the option to "View on Office.com," which opens attached Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents in the browser. Users can also download those attachments to their hard drives, provided they have Office running on their machine.

"Facebook's new messaging platform integrates the Office Web Apps to enable Facebook users to view Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents with just one click," Takeshi Numoto, corporate vice president for Microsoft Office, wrote in a Nov. 15 posting on The Microsoft Office Blog. "Now you can easily share those ideas with your friends and family on Facebook."

Microsoft has certainly been angling to integrate more social-networking functionality into its productivity offerings. In October 2009, now-departing Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie suggested that the company work to exploit social platforms and applications in a business context. One of his initiatives, FUSE (Future Social Experiences) Labs, was designed to help capitalize on any social networking opportunities developed by Microsoft Research and any associated entities.

"The lab will prioritize efforts," Ozzie wrote in an October 2009 memo, "where its capabilities can be applied to areas where the company's extant missions, structures, tempo or risk might otherwise cause us to miss a material threat or opportunity."

Both Microsoft and Facebook have something of a common competitor in Google. Facebook Messages seems squarely aimed at Gmail, which has buttressed its own offerings with chat and voice-calling. And through cloud-based initiatives such as Office 365, whose general availability is expected in 2011, Microsoft appears determined to beat back the threat presented by Google Apps.

For its own part, Google has no qualms about pushing back. In October, the search-engine giant filed a lawsuit against the federal government, alleging that its bid to update the Department of the Interior's e-mail and messaging system had been unfairly thwarted in favor of Microsoft's BPOS-Federal Suite. Office 365 is the rebranding of BPOS, and combines Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online into a united cloud platform.

But will those same businesses considering the cloud be more inclined to use Facebook Messaging as a primary or secondary platform, now that it features greater interoperability with Office's cloud tools?