Facebook launched a workplace version of its mobile app and website on Monday, marking the social networking company’s first foray into the hotly competitive and crowded enterprise software arena.
The product, called Workplace by Facebook, has been in testing for more than a year and is now available to all businesses. It is designed for workplace communication and collaboration, putting Facebook in sort of competition with the fast-growing startup Slack, whose produce we use and love.
Workplace is a subscription product – a departure for advertising-driven Facebook – with businesses paying $1 to $3 per user. Slack’s least expensive business plan charges about $7 per user.
Workplace is the latest move by Facebook to take on competitors in all areas of social networking and mobile communications. Over the past several months it also has rolled out products to challenge the fast-growing ephemeral photo-sharing app Snapchat.
Workplace, previously called Facebook at Work, has a similar look and feel to standard Facebook, including a news feed to read, group chats, and an instant messaging to stay in contact with co-workers. Users can add and share comments, photos and videos about their work and can engage in video calls with co-workers.
In a change from Facebook, Workplace’s background is gray, not blue, and users can access it without a Facebook account.
The service is free for nonprofits and educational institutions, but costs businesses between $1 to $3 per month per connected employee, depending on the size of the business.
Organizations have used the service for the past 18 months on an invite-only basis. Facebook says 1,000 companies are already using the product, including the Royal Bank of Scotland, the nonprofit group Oxfam, and soup maker Campbell’s.
Workplace is based on an internal service that Facebook’s own employees have been using for years. The goal is similar to Facebook: To connect as many people as possible — but this time in the workplace. A connected workplace is a more productive workplace, explains the official Workplace page.
The company will have to overcome the fact that Facebook is not really a work tool and is often viewed as a distraction in offices. To combat that, Workplace does not require people to sign in with their personal accounts and limits News Feed – Facebook’s main feature where users can see regular updates from friends and others that they follow – to company announcements, memos and communications.
Facebook is building a direct sales force for Workplace and also working with professional services firms to get businesses signed up.
“We want to replace a lot of old technologies like internal emails, mailing lists, newsletters,” said Julien Codorniou, Facebook’s global head of Workplace. “These are things that people want to get rid of.”
Facebook’s power in mobile arena – its Messenger app has more than 1 billion users worldwide – could give the company an edge at a moment when businesses are increasingly looking for mobile-friendly communications tools.
Facebook says the top five countries now using Workplace are India, Norway, the United States, Britain and France.