Facebook is staking a new claim in the work chat battle with Microsoft, Slack, and Google

Workspace by facebookFacebookWorkplace by Facebook includes specialised versions of profile pages, the News Feed, Facebook Messenger, and even Facebook Live.

Facebook is testing a free version of Workplace, its still-in-beta social networking service for office workers, reports CNBC.

That new version of Workplace, dubbed the “Standard” edition, will function much the same as the paid version when it eventually launches, but will lack certain security controls and other IT department-friendly features.

Otherwise, this version will do the same thing as the paid “Premium” edition, which launched in October, free of charge: Provide a private, walled-off social network for you and your coworkers to chat and collaborate, including specialised versions of Facebook Live and the News Feed.

This is a very competitive move against Facebook’s rivals for the fast-growing chat marketplace. Microsoft just launched its own Microsoft Teams, a part of the Office 365 subscription suite. Google responded with the introduction of Hangouts Chat, which comes as part of the premium G Suite services for businesses. Neither company currently offers a free version of its work chat tools.

“The vision of Workplace is to connect everyone. This means people who work only on mobile, on the go. This means large companies with distributed workforces. This means small businesses. This means companies in developed and developing markets. Workplace Standard will make Workplace more accessible and make it simpler for businesses of all sizes across the world to get started,” says Facebook spokesperson Vanessa Chan.

But the company to beat in work chat right now is Slack, the $US3.8 billion startup that claims 1.5 million paid users at customers like IBM and Walmart’s Jet.com. Slack has attributed much of its growth to its own free tier, basically giving even large customers a free taste before it reels them in to the paid version as their usage increases. Now, Facebook can ride the same wave.

Plus, this move stands to give Workplace by Facebook some credibility with companies in a more subtle way. Lots and lots of programmers hang out in topic-specific Slack chatrooms, taking advantage of the company’s free service, giving the app lots of fans all over Silicon Valley and beyond.

It stands to reason that lots of topic-specific groups will similarly find reasons to use the free, private version of Facebook promised by Workplace — giving it some credibility and users, despite the fact that people still think of Facebook as a consumer product.

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