According to a new article on the BBC News site some research has been done looking at the use of Facebook within the work environment. The research suggests that a blanket ban on the use of social networking sites such as Facebook can be counter productive. although this on the surface may be counter intuitive, the arguement is that social networking sitesfacilitate alternative communication channels that may facilitate the execution of work, such as reaching out to a wider audience for help with a problem. This is far from a new concept, as such informal channels of communication to obtain help/communicate informally was identified as important in Frederick Brooks’ Mythical Man Month, and how such channels are important, this is sometimes referred to as a water cooler effect.
The research acknowledges that the situation can be abused, but if managed can be of benefit to an organisation. In addition to this the are also the tensions that may occur as younger staff are more likely to feel more at ease using such technologies resulting in a divide within an organisation. The crucial element that the news article fails to recognise is the possibility of sensitive information slipping into public domain (either deliberately or accidentally) when public sites such as Facebook are used. Such leakages could be detrimental to the organisation.
It is in these situations where services such as Ning and Huddle or for larger organisations private social network sites could come into their own. Although separation of the sites may create a barrier for adoption, when you can use a common site for both work and personal activities its adoption is going to be easier than where there multiple different sites for different activities. Although with the Open Social efforts driven by the likes of Google may reduce this problem.