An article published earlier this month lists six examples of how Salesforce.com is using its own Chatter collaboration tool within its operations. It sheds some useful light on what Chatter is good for, and it put me in mind of the 'citizens' band' (CB) radio craze that swept around the world in the 1970s, as popularized by C.W. McCall's Convoy, a chart-topping song in 1976. CB radio allowed people to connect with each other and exchange real-time information that helped them work together better. Chatter does the same in an enterprise context. Will it be a durable tool, or is it, like CB radio, destined to be a passing fad of the times?
The examples in the article demonstrate how useful a service like Chatter can be, such as sharing information on competitors or prospective deals, rapidly finding answers to technical queries, and tracking company data feeds. But they also hint at the potential drawbacks. Phenomena such as "exploding connections" may have helped Marc Benioff see beyond "the CEO bubble" and get a better view of what's really happening throughout the company. That's very much to be applauded. But how do you ensure that there isn't too much information for people to take in?
CB radio ultimately became a victim of its own success, as the radio waves were overrun by too many people trying to make connections. Early users of Chatter have reported similar problems as the service takes hold in an organisation and more and more is added to the information stream. Filtering features introduced in the most recent release are designed to counter some of these negative effects it may work, since, unlike CB radio, there's no limit on the ways in which the Chatter stream can be sliced and diced to serve different segments of its user population.
The explosion of Chatter adoption in Salesforce.com's customer base since the service was introduced has certainly been dramatic. Such surging, unstructured adoption is very similar to what happened with CB radio, which people seized on and just started using. Like CB radio, Chatter appeals because it answers an unmet need for better, more productive ways of sharing real-time information. Its survival depends on whether Salesforce.com can keep adapting it so that its users don't end up overwhelmed with uncontrollable information streams. But whether in the long run it succeeds or fails, it has demonstrated that there are alternatives to emails, internet chat and Twitter accounts as vehicles for productive collaborative information sharing within an enterprise.