A smartphone app called Facebook At Work will hit app stores Wednesday, the company announced, as the billion-user social network expands into new territory: the office.
Facebook FB -0.23% says only a handful of test companies will be able to download the app, which was developed in London, but the release signals that the company is moving forward with the workplace experiment it has been working on since at least November.
Facebook At Work is a collaboration tool that lets colleagues communicate through a web interface or a mobile app, instead of using email. The software is still in the early stages, the company said.
Facebook At Work looks and feels similar to Facebook’s familiar social network service, with a few key differences. There are no advertisements and the company doesn’t track users or hold their data.
Facebook says a key feature of the app is Groups, which the company believes could replace email lists that appear never-ending and seem to grow larger with time.
With the workplace app, Facebook is entering unfamiliar territory. Facebook’s specialty is growing entertaining products into viral phenomena and then selling ads against the massive audiences. The potential growth numbers for the new product is likely to be much smaller, and Facebook likely will charge a subscription fee for its use, rather than sell advertising.
Facebook will compete with several companies already vying for leadership in workplace social networking, chatting and real-time document collaboration. Microsoft MSFT -0.86% acquired social-enterprise company Yammer in 2012 and has been incorporating it into its Office productivity suite. International Business MachinesCorp.IBM -0.64% has its own workplace social-networking service called Connections. Slack, a new enterprise-collaboration tool, was recently valued at roughly $1 billion.
Facebook’s selling point will be familiarity, which should make it easier for people to adapt to the service. Lars Rasmussen, the engineering director at Facebook who worked on the new software, said in an email, “We’ve been using Facebook for work for many years now internally, and we’ve gained a lot of insight into how people can collaborate more efficiently.”
Facebook, however, could face trust issues from chief information officers wary of allowing a company that specializes in gathering personal data to tap into sensitive corporate conversations.
A Facebook spokeswoman said Facebook will gather no data on corporate users and the actions of Facebok At Work users will not change their usual Facebook profiles.
In November, Facebook was testing the app with fewer than a dozen companies. Now it’s expanding the service to a wider audience, according to a person familiar with the matter. It is unclear when Facebook At Work will launch to the public. The company is still working out the details, this person says.
Facebook At Work will be available from both the Apple’s iOS App Store and Android stores.