Chatter, Salesforce.com’s social collaboration tool goes GA today — that’s general availability for the acronym challenged among us. I think it’s a good thing for many reasons.
Chatter is new, perhaps a new category of business software and that’s something we haven’t seen in a while. It took the company only eight months to go from concept to today, a great performance for any software vendor but even more so for not only building but inventing something like this. It’s a tribute to the people involved but also the Forcce.com platform, which underpins the new application. I’ll let you read some other writers to learn more about Chatter’s functionality and, instead, skip to the thing that I think is most important.
Chatter is arguably the first bit of social business software that was built for the unique demands of the business environment. Prior to Chatter we have a raft of software that was built, in some cases in a dorm room, to enhance the personal social outreach of its users. While those tools are good and worthy and most of you reading this already use them, you have to admit that in a business context they leave a lot to be desired.
Applying personal social software to business reminds me of early attempts at building a flying machine — like those grainy black and white movies with syncopated piano music backgrounds of early test flights. They could have been scripted — an inventor straps wings to his back and jumps off a bridge. You know what happens. To me, that’s what personal social media in business has been, great hopes, an adrenalin rush and cold water in the face.
The lesson here is that you can’t invent simply by emulating an old paradigm you have to think anew. Salesforce saw this clearly, analyzed the need and built a product for the need it saw rather than simply copying something that worked in another context. In other words, Chatter has no feathers. Now, it must be said that the comparisons with the Facebook user interface are many and Salesforce leads the comparison parade. That’s fine because the result is more than a UI.
The business process that Salesforce saw and sees has been in our faces for a long time though we were stumped over how to address it. How do you foster a contextually rich and running dialog between relevant parties over company business in a dynamic and evolving setting. email didn’t work, portals had limited appeal and voice mail?
The number of point to point connections in a company of even ten people can be big and in a company with five hundred or five thousand it’s just not possible. Chatter supports an always on human network that ensures that the necessary people stay in touch over relevant issues. That’s what is important about Chatter and what’s a bit different about it from personal social media.
We might be witnessing the beginning of an important new era in business software and in a future that I think will require business to build more sustainable business processes — defined as processes that are more efficient and that incorporate customers as a renewable resource — I think products like Chatter will play an important role.