Workplace (by Facebook) ...what am I missing?

(joel galbraith) #1

We are on, anxious to find a new home/platform for our small community of practice around online teaching at our institution. We spent considerable time identifying needs and user stories and solidified on Drupal as our preferred development platform. The price tag for a (custom) development and hosted service came in quite high…AND it is open source which our university IT wants little to do with.

Bottom line, we were encouraged to try Workplace (by Facebook) which is free to .edu and non-profit groups. (Think of everything you know about FB; take away ads, and any interface configurability. Add pretty rich analytics, and group and member management). Our IT department is quick to point out that it meets nearly ALL of our stated criteria for functions and features…

BUT as we’ve been trying it internally for a month, it’s missing something critical that we’ve not captured in our functional requirements and user stories for our community. Something I can’t yet articulate. I, and my community manager are a bit at a loss as to how to describe what’s missing in Facebook for work. Meanwhile the IT pressure is mounting to adopt this tool, but it feels wrong and potentially suicidal for our precious community.

Am I on to something in thinking that:

  • Workplace (FB) is a GREAT and MATURE platform for connecting people…but our community needs to goes further. It needs to connect people around ideas and topics and training materials.
  • Workplace (FB) is a very familiar interface for many, but it’s familiarity could breed equally familiar behavior (lot’s of “likes”, surface/shallow discussion, and cat videos)
  • Workplace elevates people over content (which isn’t all bad, but I like both)
  • Workplace is a rich social tool…but is simply ill-suited to facilitate/support our “type” of community

What am I missing?
Am I just too old school–stuck in tradition–wanting forum/blog based community? (I am a daily FB user for personal purposes, and generally like the tool)
How do intelligently articulate what is missing in FB and why it feels so wrong for my baby (my community, I’ve spent years nurturing)?

Transition away from Facebook Groups
(Dave Charbonneau) #2

In some regions, Facebook has introduced topics to Groups. Do you know if this is available in Workplace? If not, that would seem arduous (My free biz-based community is on FB, we don’t have topics, and it’s fine for our small size, but our fee-based comms are on their own platform.

The other drawbacks I see to FB is that they change things quite often, and that their users are their lan rats. I don’t know if they access your information being that it’s a “paid” service, but my feeling is that user habits, at least, might be observed and used.

For a low cost, ready-made forum, I really liked, Invision. It’s fairly simple, but has a lot of flexibility, and the content stays on your servers (unless you go with cloud hosting, then it’s on theirs, I assume).

(Jay Pfaffman) #3

There is a discourse importer for Ning. For $2400 the folks will import your data and host you for a year. If that’s too rich for your institution, you can probably get your data imported for under $500 and self host in digital ocean for $10 or $20/month.

(Richard Millington) #4

@Jay_Pfaffman This would be really useful for a lot of organizations out there.

Do you have a link or any more information?

(Jay Pfaffman) #5

As someone who’s spent over a decade as a college education professor who also has an undergrad degree in computer science, I have continually been bemused by how tech people seem to call the shots. I recently saw an organization throw away what I think was decades of archives because someone told them that disk space was just too expensive, a bizarre notion when a hundred gigabytes of space costs $10/month.

Here is’s prices page. These are the folks that develop Discourse (and host this site). Want world class support and to have a voice on what features get implemented next? Go with these guys.

Here is my current list of Discourse-related services. Want to run Discourse on the cheap but still be able to get help when you need it? It’s how I make my living.

And here is the Discourse install instructions.

(Sarah Hawk) #6

@jdg239 What kind of behaviour is most common (and valuable) on your Ning platform? Do people ask questions that get answered and then are no longer needed, or do people search a lot for older information/topics/discussions?

(Mark Williams) #7

I haven’t used Workplace, so I can only conjecture here, but this quote:

seems most germane. Is that captured in your req/user stories? That’s going to be key functionality that’s missing from so many of the new ‘chat’-defined tools.

(Mark Bazin) #8

We’re moving towards implementing Workplace in January, and I feel really good about it for the most part. If I had to put my finger on a “what’s missing”, it’s really two things in my opinion:

  1. Structured Data . . . the more “static” content you might need to create with lists or pages of information or whatever it happens to be . . . things that you need more “structure” for, Workplace just doesn’t really do at the moment. You can do some stuff with files and notes to try and approximate it, but it’s just not really what it could be.
  2. Organization . . . Obviously things live in groups, etc., but it seems to be very “of the moment”. Rather than seeing a list of discussions and then clicking on the one you want, you sort of are bombarded with a “things right now” view. To get the visibility of what’s been in the past, it’s much more focused on search. At least that’s my impression.

That said, I feel really good about Workplace for us at least. Starting more or less from scratch, I think the platform’s focus on communications over static content is going to be good for us. I’ve had several discussions with folks from the Workplace team and it seems like they’re committed to making this great. I suspect that one year from now, the decision to go with Workplace will look really good (for us at least).

(Sarah Hawk) #9

Good to hear from you Mark.

Are you currently using Facebook Groups or are you starting from scratch?
I’m interested in whether you think this will be an improvement on what you currently have.

(Mark Bazin) #10

@HAWK We are starting from scratch. A few of our functional cohorts have listservs, and one group is using Slack, and one is using Basecamp. Given that we have more or less nothing at the moment, it’ll definitely be an improvement as it is.

Compared to the other things I’ve been looking at, this is the one I feel I can have the most success with for adoption’s sake. I think I’m going to run into some resistance from our office in terms of Workplace not being great at structure, but hopefully the communications piece will be good enough to override those concerns.

It seems to me that these platforms tend to fall into one of two categories - either they are awesome at static / structured content and poor at collaboration / community (Sharepoint) or great at community but poor at the structured aspect (Discourse, Workplace, etc.). As it is, I think the community collaboration piece is what is more important, so I’m willing to forego the more structured / static stuff. I feel like that can be “worked around”, but the other can’t.

(Jay Pfaffman) #11

One solution is to go with two solutions, like feverbee does. Use Wordpress for the static/structured stuff and Discourse (or whatever else) for the community piece. There’s a Discourse-WP plugin that will post WP stuff to Discourse and allow you do let Discourse manage the comments under Wordpress. Recent changes to that plugin let you use Wordpress as one of many authentication sources (e.g., Gmail, Facebook, etc). (Before those changes Wordpress had to be an SSO provider, so only Wordpress could handle authentication.)

(joel galbraith) #12

I think the most valuable behavior is asking how peers deal with certain scenarios, or people just sharing how they’ve dealt with X in hope that it will be useful to others. The X is usually how to deal with a certain student situation, or strategies to work more efficiently in our new Learning Management System (LMS) which is D2L/BrightSpace. Other types of topics include a discussion about a given policy or change in the organization. I would say that they do search out old topics, articles and questions, and expect them to still be around.
When we had a better chat tool than our current one, members would throw out quickie questions like “does anyone remember what the payment schedule is this semester?” Even though that answer was searchable, the chat made it easy to ask a quick question of anyone who was online at that moment. That was fairly popular, and since we only have 2,000 members, it wasn’t too disruptive, and suggested the community was alive and active…and immediately responsive. (but it made people lazier?)

(joel galbraith) #13

Great feedback here Mark. Thanks. This gives me additional food for thought. Can I ask what type of organization you are and what purpose your communities serve for your members?

(joel galbraith) #14

Thanks Dave. I’ll have to inquire with FB about the topics in groups in their Workplace product, but I don’t recall seeing topics in there. Thanks for the invisionpower recommendation.

(Mark Bazin) #15

Sure thing @jdg239. We are a national network of High Schools - 32 schools across the country. The community will be for our faculty & staff - about 2000 total. At its core, our goal is to provide a mechanism for people at different schools to connect and ask questions of each other. We want to encourage more school to school and person to person sharing, and turn the conversation from top-down to peer to peer.

We’re sort of a loose affiliation. Our schools are fairly independent, but we share a common mission, structure, and model. We do some in-person events, but that tends to only be directors of various departments, and it’s usually a yearly (at most) thing. Being geographically distributed makes in-person events more difficult to build community around. With Workplace, my intention is to bring EVERYONE in our schools into the community, and encourage discussions beyond the in-person.

For platforms, since we haven’t had anything before, I’ve been VERY cautious about what to move forward with. I think the raw functionality hasn’t been as important as the right “fit” - a group concept to connect cohorts, but not overly silo-ed or heavy-handed, and with great ease of use. The only “requirement” is to make it easy for people to connect and share. We have some more static content that we’ll need to figure out (curriculum materials as an example), but I don’t think it’ll be a bridge too far. I also really like the end-user simplicity of Workplace and the light-touch admin interface, since we probably won’t ever have a dedicated community manager.

(Jay Pfaffman) #16

As you’ve learned with Ning, you get what you pay for. And while Ning has some means to get your data out of it and move it elsewhere, it’s not likely that Facebook will be so kind. Of course, if the nature of the things that you share there is temporal, then throwing it all away might not be a problem for you.

Aside from dumping your data in a black hole that will benefit only Facebook, my biggest problem with Facebook is that any discussion that is long enough to be interesting requires at least one click for nearly every message you read.

And, as the one-trick-pony Discourse guy always says, you could import your Ning and Mailing list data into Discourse and know that you’d be able to move it elsewhere in the future.

(Sarah Hawk) #17

So I think there are two considerations here.

  1. Is having records of those scenarios valuable to your organisation?

  2. Do people come back and search/read/learn from past scenarios?

If the answer to either of those is yes, then a Facebook based solution (of any type) probably isn’t for you.
If the answer is no, and people simply browse and read things for interest/passive learning, then it is probably a great solution.

(Alex Mercado) #18

You do get to keep your data from Workplace by Facebook. Here’s from their FAQ:

The company retains ownership of the data their employees post into Workplace, and have mechanisms to export that information and manage its community in ways that are not available in the consumer version of Facebook.

(Jay Pfaffman) #19

Shows what I know. :slight_smile:

Unless the interface for discussions is dramatically different from what I see in Facebook, my comments about having to click a zillion times to follow a discussion stand.

(joel galbraith) #20

Yes. I’m told it’s owned by us, not Facebook…although I didn’t look at the legalese.