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Facebook takes on tech giants with social network for the workplace

Published:Wednesday | November 19, 2014 | 12:00 AM

By Hannah Kuchler

Facebook is working on a new website called "Facebook at Work" to get a foothold in the office that will see the social network of more than 1bn people compete directly with Google, Microsoft and LinkedIn .

The Silicon Valley company is developing a new product designed to allow users to chat with colleagues, connect with professional contacts and collaborate over documents, competing with Google Drive and Microsoft Office, according to people familiar with the matter.

The new site will look like Facebook, with a news feed and groups, but will allow users to keep their personal profile with holiday photos, political rants and silly videos separate from work. Facebook declined to comment.

Facebook employees have long used the site in their daily work, and expanding this to other companies has been discussed for some time. The project began in earnest during the past year and is being tested with companies as its launch approaches. Some of the engineers developing Facebook at Work are based in London.

Facebook's new product could take market share from LinkedIn, the social network for professionals with 90m active monthly users. LinkedIn has become the dominant site for online business networking, but Facebook at Work could also challenge Google's drive, email and chat products and Microsoft's Outlook email service, Office software and Yammer, the corporate social network it bought for $1.2bn in 2012.

To become an integral part of office life, Facebook will need to win the trust of companies and organisations, which will expect to be able to conduct confidential conversations and share important information on the site, without it falling into the hands of rivals. Many companies, concerned about falling productivity as employees spend work time checking personal messages and internet gossip, currently ban Facebook from the workplace.

Facebook has grown from a small website for students wanting to connect to each other 10 years ago, to a network with 1.35bn people logging on each month, almost two-thirds of whom visit every day. The company's mission statement is to connect everyone and build the knowledge economy.

The company, which has often been criticised by privacy advocates over its handling of user data, has been trying to rebuild its reputation on privacy this year, changing the default to a more private setting. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder, said at the annual general meeting this year that these changes marked an "important cultural shift" for the company.

Facebook security was enhanced by the rollout of encryption by default last year, after the Snowden leaks shone a light on how easily the US National Security Agency had been able to access the data of large numbers of users.

The company is unlikely to charge for the service, at least initially, which will boost the amount of time spent on the platform, as employees previously banned from using the site in the office may now be encouraged to use it.

Facebook generates the majority of its revenue from advertising, and the longer people spend on the site, the more chance it will have to show advertisements.

Many companies, concerned about falling productivity, currently ban Facebook.

(c) The Financial Times Limited 2014