Salesforce.com today announced “a new secure enterprise collaboration application and social development platform”, called Chatter. While it will not be available until an unspecified date in 2010, Chatter will likely raise the bar for Enterprise 2.0 software, because of the promised ability to embed its functionality into other enterprise applications.
Chatter includes many of the social components that are the core of existing Enterprise 2.0 software offerings: Profiles, Status Updates, Feeds, Groups (Communities), etc. What is different — and significant — about Chatter is that any of those components can be integrated inside any existing enterprise application, including Salesforce CRM and the 135,000 custom applications built on the Force.com platform. In short, Salesforce.com will not make users collaborate through the Chatter interface; they will be able to leverage Chatter’s social functionality in the context of work that they are doing inside a CRM, ERP, or other enterprise system.
The ability to deploy social functionality as a service within an existing (or new) enterprise application is a game changer. To-date, only one other E2.0 software vendor that I am aware of (MindTouch) has been able to make that claim. Salesforce.com is the first proprietary software provider with a very large set of enterprise customers and third-party developers to offer social functionality as building blocks (services) that can be consumed in other, independent applications.
The Enterprise 2.0 crowd has been focused on adoption in 2009 and has recently begun to realize that integration of social functionality into existing and new enterprise applications and platforms will be key to increasing adoption (see my previous posts on this topic: Thought of the Day: September 17, 2009 and The Impending Enterprise 2.0 Software Market Consolidation). Salesforce.com’s announcement of Chatter begins to make that vision a reality, and at scale.
Two other aspects of Chatter demand attention. First, at a time when established Enterprise 2.0 software vendors are touting their ability to integrate with Microsoft SharePoint (see my previous post, Integration of Social Software and Content Management Systems: The Big Picture), Salesforce.com has chosen to provide integration with Google Apps instead. Salesforce.com will use the Google Data APIs to enable data communication between Chatter and Google Apps. This is hardly a surprise, given that cloud computing is core to both companies.
The other striking aspect of Chatter is its embrace of popular consumer social networking applications such as Facebook and Twitter. This occurs at a time when many organizations are blocking employee access to those tools for security, privacy, and productivity reasons. Salesforce.com already features bi-directional communication between its Force.com platform and Facebook, having launched the Force.com for Facebook developer toolkit a year ago. Now Salesforce.com is providing a similar developer toolkit for Twitter.
Chatter is an announced offering, not a shipping product. As such, it is already being compared to Google Wave in the collaboration market. However, Chatter is much more likely to make a significant impact in the E2.0 space, because Salesforce.com has always been focused on enterprise customers, while Google’s offerings started as consumer products and have only recently begun to slowly gain traction within enterprises. Google may bring Wave out of beta before Salesforce.com launches Chatter, but I expect that will make little difference as to which one sees better enterprise adoption in 2010. It is very likely that more organizations will understand Chatter’s value proposition of easily integrated social functionality.