Workplace by Facebook: Apps, Bots and Integrations

In the third and final part of our Workplace by Facebook series we’re looking at apps, bots and Workplace’s ability to integrate with other systems.

As Workplace is still in its infancy, the ability to build on, and integrate with, the platform is limited to the kind of things only your Risk and Security teams will deem essential.

To integrate with with other applications and add the kind of customisations, apps or bots that directly benefit employees (to book leave directly from within Facebook, for example), you’ll need to wait for new capabilities to be opened up. All indications are that this will happen soon, with Facebook’s Workplace product director talking about a full app platform soon being available.

Workplace for the developer

To build any customisation on Workplace, you need to use Graph API for Workplace.  The Graph API is a way to programatically get data in and out of Workplace, and it’s based on the social graph.

Most enterprise social software makes use of the social graph concept and Facebook are the real pioneers in this area, popularising the concept a full decade ago. (We recently wrote about Microsoft’s purchase of Linkedin which was, at least in part, motivated by the social graph data and LinkedIn’s notable graph expertise).

We’ve described graph databases before. They’re different from traditional tabular databases in that they link ‘nodes’ (people, documents, pages, etc) together by their interactions or ‘edges’ (view, change, create, like, etc).  Facebook have opened some APIs that allow you to access certain nodes and edges, as they open up more, the more your developers will be able to do with them.

Why develop?

For Facebook

It makes good business sense to support development on its platform.  Facebook need their product to compete with other enterprise social tools; market leaders Microsoft and rising star challenger Slack already have a head start on bots, apps and integration.

Just as Facebook have kept a profitable network of advertisers and game developers onside with their consumer platform, its likely that they’ll take a similar approach on Workplace. This could mean enterprise software vendors offer a marketplace where ready to use Workplace apps and integrations can be bought and sold.

For Workplace to survive it needs to do more than ‘just social’.  As a popular Aussie Intranet supremo has preached, intranets need to be essential – they have to be where work happens, not just where it’s talked about.

For your business

Letting people get things done ‘all in one place’ rather than having to switch applications and experiences will make them happier and more productive. If you can make that place a human platform with a great user experience, minimum learning requirements and near full adoption, then you’re doing really well.

As well as improving productivity and user experience, customising Workplace might be the only way you can meet some back office requirements such as integration with your security software, audit and moderation.

Get what you want but not what you need

Of course, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.  The demand from businesses and development partners will mean that the Workplace platform is inevitably opened up and an ‘app store’ in some guise will appear.  But you only have to look at most systems built in-house to see that companies lack skills in user experience and design and don’t understand or see it as a priority.

What Workplace has that other platforms don’t, is instant familiarity. Adding customisation and integrations risk losing that huge benefit, and worse adding poor experiences or customising things that are an integral part of Facebook’s success. This could risk failing altogether.

How Facebook balances these needs with organisations wants will ultimately decide their long term success in this market.


This is the third in our series on Workplace. The first covered the basics, while part two looked at the impacts it’ll have on internal communications.  What else would you like to know about Workplace? Let us know in the comments.