Salesforce kicks off Dreamforce, announces Chatter

Salesforce announces Chatter, a new product that brings together the best of collaboration and social networking, to improve efficiency in the workplace.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

These days, two of the biggest buzzwords in online business tools are collaboration and social.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has just taken the stage at San Francisco's Moscone Center to kick off the Dreamforce conference and is expected to introduce Salesforce Chatter, a new tool that brings collaboration and social together. (Techmeme)

Other coverage: Michael Krigsman: Dreamforce: Quick first impressions

The company, in a statement, says Chatter will "revolutionize the workplace" by leveraging social networking models that have become popular among the mainstream, notably Facebook, and bringing them to a secure and private cloud where people, content and applications will have profiles feeds and groups.

As you can probably imagine, Chatter incorporates things like status updates (I'm on a conference call now or maybe in a meeting), groups (which helps a project team stay updated), sharing (which allows users to determine who sees what) and, of course, Twitter, with the most relevant tweets being filtered into Chatter.

The Salesforce announcement comes on the heels of Cisco's own unveiling of collaboration tools earlier this month and builds on some of the buzz created by Google when it introduced a preview version of Wave, an online collaboration platform.

The Salesforce model goes beyond just collaboration tools. This is a platform and Salesforce is opening it to developers as a platform so they can build their own social enterprise applications of their own. Likewise, the 135,000 native apps on Force.com will also become social, the company said.

Increasingly, as workers are mobile, companies are global - or virtual - and meetings are conducted over a video conference just as often as they're held in a conference room, employees no longer can rely on walking over to a colleague's cubicle to discuss a presentation.

Chatter is scheduled for release in early 2010 - though Benioff wouldn't offer any specific date, noting that delays can happen. It will be included in all paid editions of Salesforce CRM and Force.com but there will also be a new Chatter Edition for $50 per user per month and will include Salesforce Chatter, Salesforce Content and Force.com. (See YouTube video below)

The company also offered a peek at a new user interface, scheduled for release next year, that looks cleaner and simpler but has some familiarity to the old UI, easing in the users who tend to not like change.

Back at the Dreamforce keynote, Benioff - joined by San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom - spent some time talking about the work that the Salesforce Foundation is funding locally. He also spent time looking back at previous announcements made by the company.

Interestingly enough, Benioff and team spent the first half of his keynote looking backward, talking about previously-announced services that were relatively unknown to those in the audience, based on the number of hands that went up when Benioff asked who'd heard of them. (So, it seems it may have been a good idea to review them.)

Specifically, he talked about the four clouds: Sales Cloud 2 and Service Cloud 2, which were introduced earlier this year. (Video) He also mentioned Custom Cloud 2, which he said will be the focus of discussions at Dreamforce tomorrow. He also teased to an unknown cloud that would be revealed at the end of the keynote, which ended up being Chatter.

He called it "Our biggest breakthrough ever," describing it as Facebook and Twitter in the enterprise. Unfortunately, he didn't get big rounds of applause for Chatter - largely, I suspect, because it took him at least 15 minutes of talking about his own experiences with Twitter and Facebook to finally get to the announcement.

As a side note, Chatter is a cool announcement but a long-winded keynote seemed to be forcing the audience to remain engaged. The news itself was buried into the final minutes of the speech. And company executives - especially Benioff - seem to be trying to inject some excitement into this keynote, including some bizarre Bruce Springsteen-like introductions for anyone who steps on stage. ("Ladies and Gentleman, please welcome to the stage... JOE SMITH!!!!).

The audience is clearly engaged already. Some 19,000 people are attending Dreamforce and many of them are already fans of the technology, so why the need to splash some "Hollywood" into it and try to sell them on the idea of cloud computing? They're already sold. At Oracle Open World this year, there were cameo appearances by The Who's Roger Daltrey and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the biggest celebrity on stage at Dreamforce was San Francisco's mayor.

Maybe it's me but it all seemed like showboating overkill, especially given that the keynote started 30 minutes and then still went over the 90-minute time frame, There were plenty of places where the keynote could have been trimmed to put things back on schedule. And, given that people started to stream out of the auditorium as the Chatter demo continued (and went on and on and on) and tweets reflected that attendees were not as engaged as they could have been, the company really sort of botched this keynote.

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