Workplace by Facebook enhances video calling, hits 3M paid users

Facebook will soon integrate Workplace by FB with its Portal video calling devices.

Facebook is enhancing the video capabilities of its enterprise collaboration platform, Workplace by Facebook, which now has 3 million paid users.

The company will integrate Workplace with its Portal video-calling devices in December. To start, Workplace video conferencing will be compatible with the 8-inch, 10-inch, and 15.6-inch versions of Portal.

However, Facebook has marketed Portal devices primarily to consumers, making the immediate usefulness of the Workplace integration unclear. Personal touchscreen displays of such kind are not widely used in the workplace.

In the future, Facebook said it may bring Workplace video meetings to Portal TV, a video bar that connects to HDMI displays. That would be more useful to businesses than the Portal integration announced this week, offering a relatively cheap way to turn any TV into a video conferencing device.

Separately, Facebook said it had rearchitected its back end to reduce the amount of network bandwidth consumed by video in Workplace. The system will detect when multiple users in an office are watching the same video to avoid each person establishing a separate internet stream.

That feature will be available to organizations subscribed to Workplace's Enterprise plan, the most expensive tier. The Enterprise plan also gives customers access to a dedicated support team and priority resolution of bugs.

Meanwhile, Facebook plans to add automated captions to prerecorded and live videos in Workplace by early 2020.

The Workplace by Facebook updates were rolled out during the social networking company's Flow user conference this week in Menlo Park, Calif. Other new features included improved analytics and the ability to send surveys via Workplace Chat, the app's messaging tool.

One new feature for IT admins will assess the sentiment of comments on a post, determining whether they are generally positive or negative, for example.

Workplace hits 3 million paid users

Workplace by Facebook now has 3 million paid users, up from 2 million paid users in February. The platform serves "millions of more users" on free plans, including its subscription tier for nonprofits, the company said.

The app blends real-time collaboration features, such as those offered by apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams, with company-wide social channels, similar to an intranet. It looks and feels like the consumer version of Facebook, but is separate from that platform.

"Workplace offers easy onboarding for an enterprise: It looks like Facebook and people know how to use it," said Wayne Kurtzman, analyst at IDC. "It also has a very strong mobile experience both for users and admins."

Gaining 3 million paid users in two years is impressive, but traditional UC vendors don't seem to view Facebook as a threat yet, said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research. Meanwhile, enterprises seem to be considering Workplace more as a modern intranet than as a UC app, he said.

In a recent Nemertes Research of several hundred organizations, just 5% of companies that were using a team collaboration app said they had adopted Workplace by Facebook -- compared to 17% using Slack, 18% using Google Hangouts Chat, 39% using Cisco Webex Teams, and 56% using Microsoft Teams.

"They seem to be flying still a little bit under the radar," Lazar said. "They are not front and center for the companies I talk to."

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