It’s been interesting to follow the ongoing dust-up between companies banning use of Facebook (and other social networking sites) and web advocates saying the practice is outdated and irrational. Shel Holtz has a great post that questions statistics suggesting Americans waste countless hours (and billions of dollars) surfing the net while at work. A recent U.N. report claiming Americans work longer and produce more capital per person than any other country would seem to back Shel’s argument.

But the issue of banning Facebook or other sites is a symptom of a bigger problem – organizations that still equate the internet (particularly social network or video sites) with “personal” use or fun. Based on my personal experience, I don’t buy it. At work, I constantly go back and forth between my company site and external tools – including Linked-in, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a long list of favorite blogs and aggregators. Much of what I do on these sites can be considered productive, whether it be doing research, catching up on news or posts, chatting with “friends” about new products or best practices or viewing viral videos. There is no clear delineation for me – and probably for many others – between internal and external tools or programs. With Linked-In and Facebook in particular, I use the networks to keep up with an expanding range of contacts to share tips, answer questions and generally “network” – much as folks have done over a beer or on the golf course for years.  And to Shel’s point, even if some of my time online is not directly useful for work – I have to admit some of the surfing is pure fun – I’m sure to catch up later. It’s about doing the work, not doing it between 9 and 5. Companies that install firewalls to prevent access to social websites are keeping their employees from accessing a treasure trove of information, connecting with peers and taking part in the online conversation. I just don’t see how that is productive.