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The Connected Web

Phil Wainewright

Is Chatter the Killer App for Force.com?

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Although I wasn't able to get to DreamForce last month to see Salesforce.com unveil Chatter, its new social computing and collaboration add-on, I was able to watch Marc Benioff present his company's wares three weeks later at CloudForce in London. An important thought struck me when I saw the slide setting out the pricing for Chatter. It's free with a full Salesforce.com license, of course. For those users who don't need the full Salesforce product, there's a lower-cost license that bundles Chatter, Content and the Force.com platform-as-a-service. The question that instantly flitted into my mind was this: does that mean Force.com comes free with Chatter, or is it Chatter that's free with Force.com?

The question's important because, when Force.com was launched two years ago, this was supposed to be the strategy that finally allowed Salesforce.com to move out of its CRM silo into all those other pockets of enterprise endeavor where it couldn't sell salesforce automation or customer service applications. Customers and partners would be able to build applications for HR, finance and all kinds of other back-office functions, ensuring that Force.com became the unifying cloud platform across the entire enterprise.

Two years later, I've been hearing the same familiar refrain, but this time it's saying that Chatter has universal relevance across the enterprise. While Force.com has had some successes, it hasn't taken the enterprise by storm, and — with the notable exception of FinancialForce.com, Appirio, Glovia and other third party developers that have built new commercial applications of their own on the platform — most of the development on Force.com has been to add custom functionality to the core CRM application. [Disclosure: I've done consulting work for both Salesforce.com and Appirio].

From what I heard customers and partners saying at the CloudForce event, Chatter is different. Whereas Force.com (as with any general-purpose platform-as-a-service offering) sounded fine in theory as a platform for building applications, there was no compelling reason for using it compared to any more familiar and trusted platform already in use. Whereas everyone seems able to instantly think of a way they can use Chatter. Appirio's Narinder Singh went on stage to demonstrate how Chatter's alerting capability will make it much easier to keep everyone abreast of important developments within its professional services automation application. Adding that functionality was a no-brainer: "When Chatter became available, because it's a platform, we just turned it on," he explained. In a later discussion with media and analysts, Dominic Shine of Salesforce.com customer Reed Exhibition talked about using Chatter as an 'integration lite' option for reporting data and events from legacy applications to sales and other interested parties without having to build a structured integration adapter. Others spoke of doing a better job of keeping sales teams on-message, improving real-time monitoring, or simply getting the right information to the right people at the right time.

There was a real creative buzz at a far higher volume than I'd heard in response to Force.com. It struck me that Chatter gives people much more of a starting-point for dreaming up useful projects than the platform alone can do. That's why I see Chatter as Force.com's 'killer app' — in the same way that the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet gave people a concrete business reason for buying PCs, so Chatter delivers a business justification for deploying Force.com.

Salesforce.com will be wise to make its as-yet unpriced 'Chatter Lite' license — which provides Chatter without Force.com or Content — free-of-charge. This should become the Chatter equivalent of the Force.com Sites capability, which publishes forms and data on Web pages for use by external users. Making Chatter feeds and interaction similarly available to external users and applications will make it 'stickier' for core users of the licensed versions, and extend its reach into new fields.

Throughout Force.com's history — dating back through several name changes to 2005 and earlier — there's always been a question mark over adoption. People have debated how much success AppExchange partners have really achieved, they've wondered how much traction Force.com has won outside the core Salesforce CRM user base. The challenge for any would-be platform is momentum. Developers won't flock to build applications unless they believe the platform will help them reach a lucrative market. Customers won't commit to the platform unless they see a lot of useful innovation taking place. It's inevitable, therefore, that in the early days of a platform's lifecycle, you'll see and hear a lot of breathless evangelism from the vendor, desperately trying to get the bandwagon going. Chatter looks to be Salesforce.com's best shot yet at establishing Force.com as a major platform for building next-generation cloud applications.

2 Comments

'does that mean Force.com comes free with Chatter'.

Is it not true that Force.com cannot come 'free' , for you have to pay one way or the other ad infinitum for the use of their cloud platform: ie it is tied technology.

Phil - Great post on the role of chatter for Salesforce's future, and on how it differentiates the Force.com platform from others.

I was at Dreamforce for the Chatter announcement, but couldn't make Cloudforce. It was clear in SF immediately that the pricing component of the launch was a mess, with customers comparing it to FB and Twitter, which are free. On Day 2, Marc B from the stage and the execs I met with all made it clear that they would work with any customer who wanted to deploy Chatter on pricing to help them do it.

What is more striking to me is that I couldn't find a single customer who had an idea of how Chatter would benefit their company. Contrast this with your experience 3 weeks later, where you found plenty of people who instantly found a use for it. Seems like pretty fast mindshare penetration if you ask me. And a good sign for when it is introduced.

Last - best wishes for the holidays and for a great 2010.

Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

Phil Wainewright

Phil Wainewright specializes in on-demand services View more

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