Take a spin through Skype in the Workspace (SITW), a new networking site for businesses and professionals, and it looks suspiciously like social media. It features connections, favorites, testimonials and profile pages. Then there are the requisite integrations with sites like Twitter and LinkedIn.
All these features should look and feel familiar to social butterflies. Yet the folks at Skype aren't really calling the new platform a social network. That might be a smart move to avoid the risk of social fatigue -- after all, do we really need another social site?
No matter what they call it, SITW adds a decidedly social component to the company's existing video, voice, chat, and SMS applications. I was drawn to it because it's intended for business users, especially small business users. (Note that there's nothing stopping anyone and everyone from using the site, though it doesn't offer much for personal use.)
I like what I see so far. The site is clean and easy to use. There seem to be limitless possibilities for the kinds of "opportunities" you can create or find. Opportunities, the lifeblood of the site, are basically pitches or queries that users post in hopes of connecting with other users who are interested in what they have to say. (Sound familiar?)
But rather than simply generating the longest possible list of connections, which may or may not have any real meaning or value, SITW is designed to facilitate actual meetings between businesspeople. Skype, of course, already has the video and voice calling tools in place to make those meetings happen. Once users connect via an opportunity, they become Skype contacts as well.
SITW might be particularly well-suited to global-minded businesses given Skype's international footprint, though that's by no means a requirement. A tip: If you're interested in meeting with people from only certain countries or continents, say so in the opportunity description to help ensure you're connecting with people in the right markets.
The site's visible weakness currently is simply that there are a limited number of users and opportunities. No great surprise there; Skype might be old hat, but SITW is brand new. While the potential applications of the opportunity framework are reasonably limitless (as long as they're legal), they're a bit heavy on the promotional side at the moment. Nothing wrong with sales -- no business survives without them -- but it will be interesting to see what other types of opportunities arise as the site expands.
As with any community, much depends on its members. Skype had 500 small businesses participate in the closed beta. The company said it expects the community to quickly grow into the thousands now that it's generally available. That growth will be critical to address the lack of breadth and depth of the available opportunities. If you're looking for a reason to believe that improvement will come, here's one: 280 million people already actively use Skype services every month.
As the Skype in the Workspace base grows, it seems likely that it will develop its own culture and unwritten codes of conduct. I can imagine, for example, an uncertain science developing around how to create compelling opportunities. Nitty-gritty variables such as selecting a proposed meeting duration might be fodder for future best-practice recommendations.
In the meantime, Skype in the Workspace is worth a serious look from business users, especially those who are already using Skype at work. Here are nine ways in which I think SITW could help SMBs -- or any business-minded users.