are there Facebook-like white label platforms specifically for business web apps?

to the extent that Facebook and MySpace have programming interfaces (e.g. letting us do Facebook applications and charge for them), provide attractively themed pages off-the-shelf and handle server maintenance, they can behave as a convenient platform for building easy to maintain business applications. But, the social networking aspect of these frameworks and associated rules (e.g. people are supposed to register under legit names) do not make sense for many business uses. It would also be nice for the platform to be a bit more white label - i.e. while it may be obvious that the site has been built using Facebook2.0-meets-Drupal ™, there is no need to have a link to “other similar, competing sites” in upper left corner.

So, are there similar platforms out there closer to what I have in mind? Like “Facebook” but with no restrictions on joining (or at least restrictions established by owners of apps, not by the platform), without inappropriate social networking functionality and with greater ease of theming it as white label at least on the surface?

If not, has Facebook ever talked about setting something like that up? Or am I here describing a product that is not in anybody’s pipeline as far as public knowledge is concerned?

What would this hypothetical application do if you copy Facebook but leave out the social networking functionality? What else is there to Facebook?

Facebook doesn’t host 3rd party applications. You have to do that yourself. But you can always link to or replicate their (or another site’s) CSS to get the same look and feel. And to expand on Dewey’s point, most business like having you interact with their content while logged in with your real information and broadcasting it to your friends.

Like this?

imagine I am pointy headed boss with slightly above average IQ. When I come to Facebook, it is not hard for me to imagine how I could display my website as a customization of the already very nice interface without paying a “business analyst” to just draw it all in Photoshop first, before it gets into the hands of “web designer” and so on. I can appreciate how nice it is to already have a framework that handles billing, has admin control panels, plenty of themed widgets for things like chat and forum (again, all there for me to visually see without hiring a programmer to give me comparative UI widgets frameworks course) and so on.

Now if I go to Google App Engine, what do I see? “Make your python scripts be all they can be” type of promise? This PHB wannabe is not impressed.

Microsoft’s SharePoint is available as a cloud offering. A lot can be done to customize the look & feel without needing any dev.

Dev for it is done in ASP.Net & there are relatively few limits on what can be built & installed.

The SharePoint product is also available as a plain server app which you install on your own server farm, whether that’s physical, virtual, or something cloudish you rent from Amazon’s EC2 or an equivalent service.

ETA:
Follow-on to the OP’s latest post: If you’re thinking of instant e-commerce-in-a-box, there are apps for that although I’m not aware of the details.

If you’re thinking of a general purpose business-app-in-a-box, you’re grossly underestimating the difference in complexity betweeen “drop a chat tool here” and “build a real business app here with 4 easy clicks.”

If I’m understanding what you want (and I’m not sure that I am), maybe something like Amazon Webstore? Otherwise, if it’s not necessarily product-oriented and you just need a theming and billing framework… why can’t regular content management systems like Joomla or Drupal work?

LSLGuy, are you aware of Facebook app platform? Read all about it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook_Platform . You can do a lot more with it than yet another web store. In fact, you can do pretty much anything with it, as long as it stays inside Facebook and obeys their policy.

Now, to reiterate my question, is Facebook can build this wonderful environment with a powerful customization framework for social networking purposes, why can’t they provide a similar one for business-interacts-with-customers purposes? Or, if Facebook is not in the mood, why doesn’t somebody else do that?

The Sharepoint tidbit is a good point, although word on the street is, it is not even close to easy to customize, work with and maintain. High salaries of Sharepoint experts testify to that much. How nice and easy to use it is visually I don’t so far know. By contrast, you don’t have to “maintain” a Facebook app - you just deploy it on their system and it magically runs.

Incidentally, LinkedIn has support for apps too. But LinkedIn is even more restrictive and far away from the white label ideal than Facebook.

Facebook app platform = hosted platform with integrated look and feel and social networking, right?

Take away the social networking and you’re left with a hosted platform with a three-column blue layout. Is that what you want? Still don’t really get what you’re looking for.

Maybe something like (the horribly named) Google Apps Marketplace, where you can build your own web app, integrate it into Google Apps (which has nothing to do with cell phone apps, but is rather a way for enterprises to deploy their own Gmail/Gdocs/Gcal solution) and sell it to Google’s customers? Not exactly white-label, but co-branding.

Again, if you just want to take another site’s framework and theme and make it your own, isn’t that what generic CMSes are for? I’m sure you can find billing plugins for them if that’s what you need?

if you can make a framework geared to social networking with nice themed UI, maybe you could also make a framework geared to business interacts with customers with nice themed UI? And maybe developing in that framework inside a solid platform run by a big software company is easier than doing everything, including theming, from scratch and/or by copy-paste?

on second thought, maybe a reasonable approximation towards what I am looking for would be nicely themed Drupal clone with a company behind it that is sincerely, financially, interested in making the framework easy to learn and use for the customers. Let’s say the bulk of the code would be closed source and available from the server by subscription (like Salesforce) and there would be a way to deploy additional custom modules, just like in Drupal. This way instead of perverse incentive not to bother with ease of use or even oppose it (it increases the gurus’ salaries) the maintainer company would have a strong incentive to make things as easy and convenient as possible to maximize adoption and it would get a revenue stream commensurate with the task. By contrast, no particular Drupal guru is going to make lots of money from making major, time/money consuming improvements.

Ah! So hosted CMS. Maybe some of the suggestions on this page? Squarespace in particular seems super easy to use, but I don’t know how flexible they are with your own code. Wordpress is generally easy enough to use because that’s its highlight and because they use it for their own hosted blogging solution (wordpress.com), but for max flexibility you do have to deploy it on your own server (which isn’t that much harder than the hosted solution).

Google brought up also PageLime, Vae, Webvanta and more – who all do similar things, it seems, and they’re pretty-looking…

I have never heard Wordpress described as a framework capable of being easily adapted to uses other than the blogging it was designed for.

I will look at the other things you mention, but I suspect that given their lack of Drupal-type name recognition they are not likely to be very generically useful either. If a tool gets as popular with programmers as Drupal it says something about its power - if not necessarily ease of use and TCO.

I’m still not sure I’m understanding you right, but it sounds like you want a hosted CMS solution that has the power of Drupal, the ease of use of Facebook and the prettiness of, say, Wordpress.

Answering from the tech (and not managerial) side of things, I think power and user-friendliness are pretty much on opposite ends of the spectrum; the same customizability that gives programmers the ability to do what they want to do makes it harder for novices to understand what’s going on. And prettiness really just depends on the particular artists who flock to any particular platform and produce ready-to-use themes.

Your hypothetical web app company would have the ability to make web apps, but not integrate them into Drupal and choose a theme? That seems bizarre. Your hypothetical service would be usable to Joe Schmoe off the street yet infinitely extendable by enterprise programmers? That’s hard.

A lot of CMSes try to juggle all of that, but I guess the ones you’ve seen don’t meet your standards. As for Wordpress, it certainly leans more towards the blogging side of things, but through plugins, custom templates, and custom code, it can serve as a rudimentary CMS. Fine for small organizations and small businesses, but probably not big enterprises.

I hope somebody else knows of something.

particular artists / web designers flock to projects that pay money. If Drupal has ugly themes, maybe that means that nobody bothered to pay people to flock to fix that.

It’s true that complex environments are inherently harder to understand for novices than simple ones. But it’s also true that if the company really cares about the issue and invests in solutions, it may make it easier than was heretofore thought possible. Visual Basic was not lacking in power (it did lack in plenty of other departments, obviously) yet Microsoft made it sufficiently easy to use (compared to competition back then) and won a huge marketshare thanks to all the novices who liked the “get things done quickly skipping the deep Zen meditation part” approach. If they were to have had good sense to build something closer to modern Java or VB.net that would have been even better, yet even what they did was a great accomplishment at the time.

In more recent news, compare the ease of getting a project to compile and run in Visual Studio or in the Java world using Ant. It’s not like C# and Java are so inherently different things that we shouldn’t be justified in making comparisons. But Java’s jar hell issue is a topic of lively online hand wringing (and doing nothing) amongst people who sound like domain experts, not pissed off novices.

BuddyPress is a social network platform built on WordPress. You can see some examples of it in use on the “Who” page on that site.

It’s not a managed/hosted service, but it is open source and I’m sure there’s probably someone around doing white-label BuddyPress hosting.

Disclosure: I work for a company that contributes to BuddyPress development.