Earlier this week, I posted lamenting the lack of a good office/groupware collaboration tool in Facebook. Many of the commenters wondered why I would ever want such a thing. "I don't see the point of office style apps inside facebook. Your only going to get side tracked by being attacked by a Pirate, Ninja, [INSERT ANY OBJECT]," quipped reader Darren Stuart. "If you look for productivity in a social-networking site, you would not find it," said Joseph Pally. But I still think it's a good idea, and in this post I will attempt to defend why I think that and review a recently launched Facebook groupware app.
The reason I gave in Monday's piece was convenience. Right now, I have Basecamp projects open with four different groups, meaning I have to remember passwords to four different Basecamps. That is in addition to the hundreds of sites I already have to remember passwords for for other things I do online. The more you can get the things you do under a single umbrella, the less work you have to do get to work.
One of the arguments made against the idea a productivity app in Facebook was that Facebook is for socializing, not work. That may be true, but work is social, and it is clear that Facebook has designs on professional networks like LinkedIn and Xing. In the past few months they added "Networking" to the looking for options, and some people have already started using Facebook for professional networking. More useful work and productivity apps will likely find an audience at Facebook among those people.
Further, there is an untapped market of college students -- the site's core user base -- that could benefit from having a simple groupware tool to use for organizing and collaborating on school projects, who have likely not heard of Basecamp, GoPlan, and the rest. Because many college students already spend so much time on Facebook, having that tool right there are their disposal would be helpful, not a hindrance. If you really can't ignore the Pirate vs. Ninja requests for a few hours to get some work done, you may need your doctor to up your dose of Adderall because the ADD is getting bad.
Also in the comments of my post Monday, a reader directed us to a recently launched Facebook groupware tool called MyOffice. Built by three Columbia University students, the application is far closer to the type of thing I was looking for when I began writing.
While MyOffice is certainly not a replacement for Basecamp, it is definitely a step in that direction and a useful tool for students working on group projects. MyOffice includes a private discussion board, file sharing, a schedule, and to-do lists. Each of the tools are very basic and could use some added functionality (like the ability to assign priority to tasks, for example, or to create more than one separate task list, or the ability to attach files to discussion board posts), and it would be hard for me to switch from Basecamp to any tool that didn't include a Writeboard equivalent. Though limited in functionality, however, the tools are all easy to use and work well. Each project gets its own dashboard with a helpful activity stream that keeps you on top of the latest moves by team members.
MyOffice may be basic, but the foundation is there for a solid groupware/productivity tool, and it is certainly enough for students. This is the sort of application I have been hoping to see more of ever since the launch of the Facebook platform -- apps that are useful, and simplify our lives outside of Facebook by bringing the things we use each day into a single location. I hope this is the start of trend in the Facebook application ecosystem.