Zoho taps productivity apps in mashup with Facebook

Zoho ports apps to Facebook in a move that could eventually validate the argument that the next generation of corporate users would want applications delivered via online services.

Online application vendor Zoho Tuesday ported its productivity tools to Facebook to create a mashup between its office applications and the social networking site.

While the service has a decidedly consumer flair, the mashup could help validate the argument that the next generation of corporate information workers will expect applications to be delivered online rather than installed on desktops.

Facebook users will have access to Zoho’s word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications – Writer, Sheet and Show – from within the Facebook interface.

The deal is the first time Facebook has offered its users access to productivity applications. Zoho has 12 other applications, such as Notebook (content collaboration) and Meeting (Web conferencing), that also could find their way into Facebook, according to Zoho officials.

“You have to deliver applications wherever the user’s context is,” says Mike Gotta, an analyst for the Burton Group. “That means places like the desktop, the mobile phone, social sites and portals.”

Gotta says Facebook is interesting because adoption of features spreads quickly among social groups linked on the site.

“You have to show your widgets anywhere. You have to figure out a way to syndicate those widgets everywhere and allow them to grow virally,” said Gotta. “And that is the thing with Facebook, every time you add a widget to your page everyone knows about it. If I added the Zoho widget to my [corporate] portal page who would know?”

He says, however, while Facebook users may indeed become IT’s corporate knowledge worker population of the future, the real test of online collaboration tools comes down to corporate security and compliance.

“We are all waiting to see if this transfers over the firewall,” says Gotta. “It is an interesting dynamic in the consumer sense but how does it make business sense when you have to honor corporate policies.”

For now, Zoho isn’t formulating an answer, rather it is going with its gut. The company has 300,000 users and one-third of them are students, clearly a majority of Facebook’s demographic.

Users will be able to view and edit Zoho documents, spreadsheets, and presentations from Facebook, and share those files within the Facebook interface.

The company plans to introduce a component in the coming months so Zoho applications can be used offline, according to Raju Vegesna, Zoho’s evangelist. But Vegesna says that is only a short-term check mark to appease corporate users.

“[Online applications] are a significant change compared to our generation where people are use to installing applications. These students are not use to that. Their life is online.”

Zoho used the Facebook Platform as the foundation for its mashup. The company submitted its applications for inclusion within Facebook. The social networking site approved its inclusion July 1. Facebook does not have an API for developers to use. Instead, it reviews submissions and then offers access through its site.

Zoho users will still have to type in their Zoho user name and password after they enter Facebook.

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