A special report in the latest BusinessWeek details a trend among online players to add social networking features to their sites – in effect creating their own versions of Facebook of MySpace. The impetus is obvious – these companies (notably Yahoo, eBay and Playboy) want to attract users and keep them on their sites as long as possible. And the way to do that is to foster online communities – where like-minded people with specific interests can create identities, share and create content and meet or make friends. In short, they can come to socialize, rather than just browse or shop. As BusinessWeek points out, this trend is not new – numerous sites have introduced message boards for example – but the scale and speed of adoption is unprecedented.

What interested me about this article is not just the evolving competitive landscape among web giants, but the obvious implications for companies trying to engage their employees. Taking the trend in-house, so to speak. Presumably, one can assume many employees – particularly those under 30 – are looking for some interaction and personalization from their company intranet. They want more than static headlines and stilted messaging. The problem is they can rarely find that. Companies that learn from the Web and internalize some of these networking tools should benefit through increased traffic and their site should become more sticky and relevant. After all, many of these employees are likely already on social network sites outside the firewalls, so why not let them engage in conversation on their own website?