SAN FRANCISCO – On Wednesday, Marc Benioff revealed Salesforce.com's plans to expand into the collaboration technology business, showing off a forthcoming service called Chatter in a two-hour keynote address at Salesforce’s annual user conference.
Much as Salesforce.com described the launch of its sales force automation application as the "Amazon for the enterprise," and AppExchange, its online storefront for complementary applications, as the "iTunes for the enterprise," Chatter took on a similar description.
"Facebook and Twitter stand out by themselves as phenomena and truly breakthrough capabilities for the industry," Benioff said. "The fundamental question we have to ask is why is there not a Facebook for the enterprise? Why is it I know more about these strangers on Facebook than I do about the employees at my company? It's because of this beautiful integration of content, apps and people."
With Chatter, Salesforce.com hopes to bridge those three, tying together employees with Salesforce.com's Sales Cloud, Service Cloud and Salesforce.com Content, its content management system, built on its acquisition of InStranet.
Chatter includes features familiar to users of the social networking sites. Registered users will have a profile page, can update their status with messages like "just finished a proposal for customer X," and can follow the updates of other people in the company as well as join specially created groups. In addition, users can post links to documents, video and other media through Salesforce.com Content.
Chatter also allows objects in the applications to update a user's feed. So, for example, when a key account pays a bill or has a service case resolved, that activity will register in the feed, alerting the sales rep, sales manager or service agent.
"It's not just the people in your enterprise talking to one another -- and that's important -- but what's happening is the apps are talking to you," said Parker Harris, Salesforce.com's co-founder. "Things that happen, even if they don't happen on Salesforce, can come into Chatter, just as it would in Facebook, and you know everything that's going on in your enterprise."
Security and access to records is based on the same settings customers have set up with the other applications.
"A lot of it came out of our work with banks," Benioff said. "Those banks have required us to create audit trails of everything that ever happened to an object [in a database]. What we're doing is exposing those audit trails."
Applications built on top of the AppExchange platform can stream updates to the feed as well.
Salesforce.com Chatter will be standard on all editions next calendar year. There will also be a Chatter edition for users who do not currently have a Salesforce.com license, available for $50 per user per month, which includes licenses for Chatter, Salesforce Content and Force.com.
The release will be Salesforce.com's "first enterprise-wide application," Benioff told attendees, exposing the company to users outside its main CRM systems.
"We have a lot of customers where we have only Sales or only Service users," he later told a group of press, analysts and customers. "This is very much a Trojan horse strategy."
Benioff told financial analysts that the company avoided branding like social networking or social media to focus instead on collaboration, because collaboration is a budget item for most CIOs.
"Just as they had used Apple and Amazon as icons, they're doing the same thing with Facebook and Twitter," said Jeff Kaplan, managing director with Wellesley, Mass.-based THINKstrategies. "It'll be interesting to see if this brings them into competition with Facebook and Twitter -- as well as IBM and LotusLive and Cisco, a big customer of theirs."