On Monday at its annual Dreamforce conference, Salesforce.com will change forever the way that businesses build websites. It is launching Force.com Sites, which provides a hosted website infrastructure for publishing data from an organisation's internal Salesforce.com applications to the outside world. [Disclosure: Salesforce.com is a recent client and is paying my accommodation costs to attend Dreamforce].
Force.com Sites will be a free add-on to existing Salesforce.com licences provided customers stay within fixed pageview limits — up to 50,000 pageviews per month for Group licence customers and up to 1 million monthly pageviews for Unlimited licence customers. Customers can buy extra pageviews at the rate of $1000 per month one to five million, and $3000 per month for above five million. But most customers — especially those at the small business end of the scale — will find their usage stays well within those pageview limits, making the new feature effectively free-of-charge.
Although Salesforce will be hosting the Web pages, customers wil be able to map them to their own domains, making it invisible to site visitors where the pages are hosted. Examples where the Sites capability will come in useful include online forms that link into an internal recruitment application, or published stock availability information.
Previously, publishing this type of information meant creating a Web application that wrote or read data to and from the Salesforce.com API. Now that programming task is removed from the equation, and customers can simply publish the requisite form or results table to a Sites-hosted Web page. This is not quite eliminating the integration problem so much as moving it to a different place. It's no longer a question of integrating the data — the Force.com platform takes care of that — but it creates a new challenge to maintain consistency of CSS layouts and general look-and-feel between the existing Website pages and new Sites-hosted pages.
This is certainly how I've built all my own websites, while silently cursing the difficulties of achieving that consistent look-and-feel across all the different constituent services. At last a major Web service provider has switched away from an API interface to a more Web page-centric model that will demand mew mechanisms and techniques for integrating application pages hosted at several different providers within a single website framework. That's a landmark change, and about time too, if you ask me.