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Social Networks in Business: A Contrarian View

I recently blogged on support for the idea that social networking sites -- or similar technology -- can create business value by promoting knowledge sharing and innovation within and between organizations. It's an idea that seems to be rolling down hill with some force, and you can be sure Google's just announced proposed standards for creating social networking apps will get the attention of corporate developers.

Now for a dissenting voice:

"Oh, sure, there are some marginal business applications, but they generally feel like warmed-over knowledge management," writes Harvard Business Online contributor Tom Davenport.

His take: Facebook, MySpace, et al. have a place in the business world, but only to help employees connect socially, not professionally. "If you want to keep your employees, it's generally a good idea to facilitate friendships among them. Posting pictures and wishing people happy birthday and making lists of the places you've been -- it seems to be the only way that many people can get through the work day."

So why not use a social networking product to collaborate on a professional level? Simple, he says. FaceBook and MySpace were created by and for young people to help them stay in touch with each other. Tools such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft SharePoint were created by and for for the big boys and girls to get business done.

Sean Silverthorne

Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.

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