A software company that claims to have cracked the problem of letting companies gain from the benefits of social networking sites while protecting them from security breaches, has been launched in the UK.

WorkBook, developed by WorkLight and previously only available in the US, combines the capabilities of Facebook with added controls for businesses. This includes integration with existing enterprise security services and information sources, allowing companies to use Facebook while providing their employees with a safe and secure solution for increased collaboration and communication.

With WorkBook, employees can find and stay in touch with corporate colleagues, publish company-related news, create bookmarks to enterprise application data and securely share the bookmarks with authorised colleagues, update on status change and get general company news. Employees can use Facebook, with the WorkBook overlay, with no danger of information leaking outside the organisation or access being granted to unauthorised personnel, said WorkLight.

Facebook is very much a consumer tool but is making its way to the enterprise, where employee-driven, unsanctioned use of Web 2.0 technologies is a concern for IT organisations. With the proliferation of social networking applications in the workplace, enterprises are faced with a choice: either ban popular utilities or embrace the networking functionality offered by these tools.

According to Forrester Consulting, 58.4 percent of the 308 large companies interviewed impose a policy prohibiting the usage of social networks at work. There is a general concern about employees getting distracted at work and not meeting their deadlines. After all, many bosses don’t want to pay for their staff to "play" on the Internet. This sentiment shows that there is still a lag in the understanding of the full benefits of social networks. They are seen as a fun way to pass time as opposed to a marketing strategy.

Facebook has become the pre-eminent consumer social networking application on the Internet, with a total user base of over 64 million users globally. From September 2006 to September 2007 the site’s traffic ranking increased from 60th to 7th, according to Alexa. It is the most popular website for uploading photos, with 14 million uploaded daily. The UK is host to the highest number of active Facebook users outside the US, totalling about 13 percent of the population, according to WorkLight.

WorkLight said that the application would allow employees to use Facebook to find colleagues by name, location, department, project and area of expertise, while allowing them to collaborate securely with peers using familiar Facebook capabilities. According to the company, WorkBook would also allow users see general and personalised company news direct from a Facebook news feed, and lets users create groups around shared interest areas and work-related projects.

More importantly, WorkBook provides compliance with existing security policies - enterprise security integration authenticates WorkBook users via corporate authentication facilities, enforces access control policies and supports Single Sign-On (SSO).

“The United Kingdom is host to over 8 million Facebook users, and user adoption is growing at a rapid pace,” said Shahar Kaminitz, CEO and founder of WorkLight. “As we have seen with the introduction of WorkBook in the US, there is a significant advantage to using this consumer tool at work, as long as it is safeguarded. Companies are particularly interested in leveraging employee expertise and mindshare to increase productivity with consumer tools, without hampering employee-driven initiatives. Facebook is a perfect example of how we are seeing this trend is impacting the corporate world.”

WorkBook is part of the WorkLight platform, which supports various consumer Web 2.0 technologies such as iGoogle, Netvibes, RSS, desktop gadgets and widgets, among others. The WorkLight server is licensed to enterprises by yearly subscription. Pricing starts at €10 (£7.30) per user per month, with volume discount pricing available.