Earlier today Facebook publicly opened registration beyond the world of students for the first time (!) to people with select corporate email accounts.
But, like Facebook’s limited initial availability–first only to Harvard students, then to select schools like Stanford and its east-coast counter-parts (I’m biased :)), and gradually to almost every school around the country–Facebook is only allowing corporate registration to people with email addresses at 10 select companies and 1 non-profit organization:
Facebook had great success with its staggered rollout strategy in the college market. I think they are hoping to create the same viral effect in the professional setting.
Note the way that Facebook has chosen to seed the corporate market: instead of specifically focusing on one sector or industry, they’ve chosen leading companies in several industries that typically hire top-caliber grads (consulting, software development, hardware development, consumer products).
The company apparently hopes the Facebook meme will trickle-down to other companies in these sectors by traversing the professional networks of hip workers and, eventually, that it will spread to other sectors through alumni and non-professional networks.
How will this affect the millions of students already on the service? I suspect that Facebook will work hard to make sure that the corporate crowd stays in one corner and the college crowd in another as much as they can–no 19 year old likes getting “poked” by someone in their 40’s–just as they have done with the recent expansion into high schools. As long as Facebook stays safe for students, expanding into the corporate world should not adversely affect their dominance in the college and high school markets.
How popular will Facebook be with corporate users? While the rollout will likely create buzz in some circles, I don’t think you’ll see the same phenomenal viral exponent or use patterns over time. Professionals just don’t talk to dozens of classmates a day or live in dorms with hundreds of peers, and they certainly don’t have 51 minutes a day to spend looking at cute members of the opposite sex and writing on each others’ walls… I’m lucky if I see my friends at Apple once a month.