Personal-relationship facilitator Friendster is reportedly preparing to get chummy with the business crowd by rolling out an enterprise version of its social media network.
Dave Kochbeck, director of operations, reportedly discussed the move at a Novell/Horn group media roundtable earlier in the week, telling attendees that the network plans to make its platform available to other businesses. “It has to be about more than getting teenagers laid,” he said, according to SiliconValleyWatcher.
Friendster Inc., founded in 2002, boasts some 16 million members and bills itself as “the fastest way to discover the people and things that matter to you most.”
But its reputation is for being the fastest way for teenagers to hook up. That demographic, however, is apparently not a big source of revenue. Analysts were unsurprised that the company would look to the enterprise, since making money outside of it has been tough.
“None of these guys seems to have gotten a lot of traction in terms of business models,” said Marc Strohlein, vice president and lead analyst at Outsell. “It doesnt seem unreasonable theyd look around and say, Where is there some money to be made?”
Part of the problem is social networkings annoying aspect. “The difficulty I have with a lot of those social networking applications is that … the social networks are about a purpose, that have a motivation beyond just the social networking application itself, are more useful,” said Stephen OGrady, an analyst with RedMonk.
When social networking is for a specific purpose, however, such as business networking or expertise sharing, analysts see more relevance, depending on specific industry use cases. Maybe. Depending on how its done.
“From my direct experience, theyre useful at one level and annoying at another,” Strohlein said. “LinkedIn [Ltd.], for example, most people use it to get their resumes in front of somebody I might know. Its kind of opportunistic.”
Be that as it may, annoyed analysts arent stopping the venture capital from flowing, nor is it keeping companies from hopping on the bandwagon. Competitors offering similar technologies include Visible Path Corp. and Entopia Inc.
During a one-week period in the fall, Lycos Inc. entered the social-networking fray with the launch of its Lycos Circles service, LinkedIn Ltd. nabbed $10 million in funding, and InterActiveCorps ZeroDegrees moved out of beta with a feature for search-engine optimization.
A week before that, startup Leverage Software Inc. launched with software to help enterprises discover and analyze relationships for sales and marketing.
Obviously, the field of social networking technologies is already crowded. Friendster will be up against players that have tied themselves in well to the enterprise by integrating with enterprise collaboration tools such as Microsoft Corp.s Outlook.
For example, ZeroDegrees, which offers a hosted service where users can create their own business networks, scans a users Outlook account to make recommendations about which users should be added to the network. ZeroDegrees can import data from other e-mail clients as well.
At a minimum, Friendster will likely have to figure out how to scrape useful information from e-mail, similar to ZeroDegrees.
Beyond that, Strohlein said that a successful enterprise social networking tool should require minimum involvement on the users part.
Finally, he said, for enterprise uptake to occur, such technologies have to be dropped into cultures that encourage teamwork and involvement.
“Knowledge management didnt work because people dropped it into companies where information was siloed and hoarded,” he said.