A social application for business

July 23, 2009: 8:18 PM ET

One of the themes cropping up again and again at this year's Brainstorm technology conference is the pervasive use of social services like Facebook, and the frustration that while they dominate the consumer world, they aren't quite right for large enterprises.

Intel CIO Diane Bryant ticked off the advantages of sites like Facebook:  the engagement, the opportunity for collaboration, how easy it is to discover what your friends find interesting and important. All those "social media" type things Bryant, says, would be useful within a company like Intel. Substitute friends for colleagues (and many people already do), and you get the idea.

But Bryant is not about to unleash an unvarnished version of Facebook within her company, or hack together some version of the service to make it work. "Why isn't there a social media application for the enterprise?" Bryant says. "There is a huge need, and there is nothing there."

Well, there is something in the works.

In an interview Thursday afternoon, LinkedIn Executive Chairman Reid Hoffman said his company is testing a service that he hopes will be the social media application for the corporate world that Bryant is looking for.

Hoffman's LinkedIn of course, is already a hugely popular site for networking and hiring. While the details of the new service haven't been worked out, whether it lives inside a corporate network or inside LinkedIn's for example, Hoffman is keenly aware of the need and the opportunity.

"We have a product in beta called Company Groups, which our company uses a lot," Hoffman says. "We're still iterating a lot on it, but it's a tool that let's people put their personal networks together in such a way that it helps the whole company do its tasks. Just as an individual might ask, how do I stay informed? How do I share information? You'll be able to do that within a company."

Five bucks says it's a company like Intel soon.

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Michael Copeland
Michael Copeland

Michael V. Copeland joined FORTUNE as a senior writer in September 2007. Copeland has covered everything from electric cars to e-readers. He is a creator of Tech Mate, an irreverent video series in which he debates (and skewers) digital issues of the day. Before joining FORTUNE, Copeland was a senior writer at Business 2.0. Copeland graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.

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