"The reason Facebook at Work is so compelling is that it's easy to use — everyone knows the interface," Charlene Li, a social media analyst at Altimeter Group in San Francisco, said about the product prior to the rebranding. "It's really dumbed down compared to other tools out there."
Not that Li is expecting Facebook to suddenly take over the market, or even become a major force. Instead, she views it as a hedge. Should usage take off, the company can invest in hiring and adding new features. But if it flops, no big loss.
That certainly seems to be Facebook's approach.
At the company's annual developer conference in April, CEO Mark Zuckerberg laid out Facebook's 10-year plan and made no reference to the enterprise. Products of significance include search, WhatsApp and Instagram, and the technologies Zuckerberg is prioritizing are internet connectivity, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
From a revenue perspective, the total business chat market is dwarfed by Facebook's ad business. According to Compass Intelligence, the global enterprise messaging app market won't hit $1.9 billion until 2019.
Facebook is charging $3 per month per user for the first 1,000 monthly active users, $2 per user for teams of 1,001 to 10,000 and $1 a month per user for groups of more than 10,000.
Slack has a free tier and offers products with more features for $6.67 per user per month or $12.50 a month. HipChat has a free product and another for $2 a month.
As a workplace chat and collaboration service, Facebook has obvious appeal. Group messaging services are cleaner than e-mail threads and far less annoying than endless reply-all messages. For companies that just need that functionality and haven't yet made the leap to another messaging tool, a low-cost Facebook service is an attractive option. And anything Facebook can do to pull users from Google's Gmail is a win for Zuckerberg.