If you use LinkedIn and Facebook as a main tool for managing your business contacts, you're going to love the news Microsoft came out with last week. But if social networks distract you at work and hurt your productivity, then let's hope your tech staff doesn't install updates to Outlook on your computer.
Microsoft is beta testing a new feature it calls the Outlook Social Connector. It'll eventually sync information from LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace into Outlook. Right now, it only works with LinkedIn.
It also keeps you up to speed on what your contacts are doing on those networks. For example, let's say you have to e-mail Judy. When you type Judy's e-mail address in the To field, a window below the e-mail shows everything Judy has been up to on the networks. If Judy changes her contact information on LinkedIn, your contact info for her in Outlook will automatically update -- helping to make sure you always have the most recent information. And imagine how much time is saved by adding LinkedIn contacts to your Outlook, letting you expand your network while never leaving your e-mail program.
But imagine how much time will be wasted.
Social networking is addictive -- especially Facebook. What starts out as a simple e-mail could mushroom into spending 10 minutes watching a Star Wars spoof video someone posted. E-mail is an efficient workplace productivity tool; adding goofy status messages could muck it up.
It'll be interesting to see how many workplaces add this upgrade. It's already hard enough to keep away from social networking during work hours. Yet so many of us use social networks to manage our professional contacts. Outlook's changes are just exacerbating our society's struggle with keeping our professional and personal lives separate online.
The upgrade also means we'll be need to be more careful than ever over what information we make public on these networks. Because now, people you e-mail -- like your company CEO -- could see your relationship status changed, or the results to the quiz you took during work hours.
There's no word yet on when it will release the version that lets you sync Facebook and MySpace. To give it a whirl, go to office.com to download the beta of Outlook 2010. Then download the Outlook Social Connector (which also works on Outlook version 2007 or 2003). Finally, download LinkedIn for Outlook at linkedin.com/outlook.