So why did Cisco buy social-networking software provider Tribe?
John Chambers, Cisco CEO, is quoted in the D/ blog on the Wall Street Journal website (it might be open to non-subscribers, but I’m in an airplane right now and can’t check)

“A lot of this social networking kids do is absolutely going to drive business and drive business in a big way,” said Mr. Chambers. . . . He envisions a world where Cisco provides the gear and software that corporations can use to maintain online communities for their employees and collaborate on projects.

I think he’s right. Social networking for business is the cyberspace instantiation of the flat organizations developed over the last 20 years.

On FaceBook no one knows you’re a dog
Imagine a business whose executives know they need a new direction for a key division. Set up an anonymous social networking site and give every employee an account. Throw some questions about what the possible opportunities could be and see what happens.

In an anonymous world the usual suck-ups won’t be blowing smoke at the boss, since they won’t be able to tell who it is. The bright kid in the mail room will have the same opportunity as the dead-ended middle-manager to show what they can do. And the senior execs will the opportunity – and the responsibility – to show their creativity and receptivity as new ideas develop.

OK, how about a more likely scenario?
Few executives have the humility to put themselves out like that. So a more likely example is manufacturer with lots of independent dealers hosts a site for the dealers to pass on experiences, photos, tips and requests. Lubricated by incentives, some will emerge as leaders of the on-line community whose know-how enables new dealers to ramp faster and veteran dealers to more easily adapt and expand in response to changing markets.

So who is going to provide the storage?
Social networking often, but not always, builds on user-contributed content. That content tends to be easy to create and high-growth: photos, videos, audio recordings and short text messages. Most of the data will be cool – accessed sporadically – and whatever gets popular should get cached. Cheap rules.

The StorageMojo take
Computer-based social networks go back to the days of 300 baud modems and BBS’s. Big markets ride on basic human desires. Certainly the desire to communicate is one of those. It won’t be easy, but businesses that integrate that desire into their businesses will build large and loyal audiences.

Comments welcome. I’m on the road so moderation will be a little slower than usual.