While most of us have been preoccupied with game-changing releases from Google, a war has been waged in the name of the future enterprise. On one side, Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com, leads those who believe enterprise software should be more like Facebook. On the other, a crowd of naysayers who don’t like the idea of mixing business with pleasure.  

Team Benioff

Benioff initially stirred the pot when he posted an article titled "The Facebook Imperative" on TechCrunch. Here’s an excerpt:

We need to transform the business conversation the same way Facebook has changed the consumer conversation. Market shifts happen in real time, deals are won and lost in real time, and data changes in real time. Yet the software we use to run our enterprises is in anything but real time. We need tools that work smarter, make better use of new technology (like the mobile devices in everyone’s hands), and fully leverage the opportunities of the Internet.

As you can probably imagine, such strong beliefs spawned a ton of strong feedback from the Internets:

Team Dignan

It seems appropriate to deem Larry Dignan of ZDNet the leader of the opposing team, seeing as how he compared Benioff’s idea of a better enterprise to feces.

Seriously.

“In a nutshell, Facebook is a lot like poo,” he wrote in a recent article. “You inadvertently step in it and then spend a lot of time trying to clean it up. Do we really want to extend that social-poo-ridden approach to the enterprise? I don’t. All I want at work is to find an expert within two or three clicks. On Facebook, I can find a few good Farmville experts, but not much else.”

Also on this side of the fence is Charles Zedlewski of Enterprise Irregulars. He highlighted some of this own beliefs in a recent article, including:

  • Facebook is designed for entertainment, not productivity.
  • I do not have the same social relationships with my co-workers that I do with my Facebook friends.
  • Facebook is not another better Lotus Notes

“I’m not so sure that ‘spend as much time on the site as possible’ is a useful design paradigm for the enterprise,” he writes. And then, in a brilliant play on pop culture, “…to ask 'Why isn’t all enterprise software like Facebook?' is a bit like asking, ‘Why isn’t all enterprise software like the final season of LOST?'”

Heh. I love that show. 

Social is the Way to Go

Both gentleman concede that nowadays enterprise software needs to be social, but feel that using the direct Facebook approach would be the opposite of useful. For example, Zedlewski suggests that the enterprise be more like Amazon's user design paradigm: find what you’re looking for, transact your business, get out.

"That doesn’t mean Amazon doesn’t have community features like favorite lists or reviews or collaborative filtering," he says, "but they’re designed in service of useful outcomes for the consumer and the business."

Benioff replied to criticisms by posting yet another beast of an article on TechCrunch, in which he states:

The enterprise is not just going to the cloud, it’s now going social, and it’s going mobile. Facebook and Twitter have shown us the way. Like Microsoft, and IBM, not everyone has to get it yet, but eventually they all will. As they say: Shift happens.

Obviously there are great arguments on both sides, and we must say, Benioff is right about shift happening. The number of emerging social solutions for the enterprise (FMYI, Socialtext, and CubeTree are just a few) prove that.

Yes, we are on the brink of a new way of working, but whether or not it will be entirely Facebook-driven as Benioff posits, is up to the masses. Sure, it would be nice to see Facebook's success translate over to the enterprise, but before we make a move that bold, it would probably be to keep in mind the fact that we've been known to get ahead of ourselves before (see: Google Wave).

So, tell us, how do you want to work?