Why Chatter Matters

Well, as usual I am late to break the news.

Salesforce introduced Chatter with great fanfare — and most everyone covered it in detail and analyzed it (Dion Hinchcliffe, Sameer Patel, and Michael Krigsman provided some of  my favorite coverage).

I am going to tell you what I think most people are missing and the reason it really matters.

Chatter is not Salesforce’s response to the social prowess of Microsoft, Yammer, Sharepoint and friends.  Yes, I know that Marc Benioff said that — but he always goes after Microsoft.  It is also not a leap-frog to get ahead of SAP and Oracle in social functionality.  That would be short-sighted and naive, as either one of them can then do pretty much anything they want  to get ahead in turn.

The key to understanding the value that Chatter brings to the table was evident on the second-day keynote, when we talked about platforms.  Deep within the many amazing demos we saw from customers was the answer of why Chatter matters:

It is part of the platform.

It is not a feature or a function that becomes part of an application, it is part of the basic infrastructure that Force.com provides.

I have been saying from the very beginning that you won’t be able to prove ROI for your investment in a social network if you try to get beyond the initial listening and reacting.  This is one of the main reasons why organizations have not gotten past this point: they are being asked for a return on investment that is not there, cannot be calculated.  You can do some calculations for basic functions you will perform – but there is nothing really that talks to the infrastructure investment.

My answer has always been: you won’t get an ROI, but you need to invest on it as if it was infrastructure.  Who computes an ROI for more storage? or an additional laptop? a printer?  Those are infrastructure components that your organization must have and you just invest in them without expecting a specific return on the investment.

Back to Chatter.  By integrating it into the Force.com platform Salesforce accomplished three things:

  1. It changed the conversation from reacting to social events to making social part of the architecture.  We have advanced from trying to figure what to do to making the people and the applications within the organization become social.  When applications and systems can talk for themselves (as they can with Chatter) the conversation changes.
  2. They have shown that the cloud is indeed in progress, and that they are no longer just a SaaS or on-demand vendor with a cool marketing term.  The cloud is a series of interconnected platforms, and Salesforce has gotten closer to it with this move than ever before.
  3. It has essentially changed the game for all the feature vendors with social tools. No, they won’t put them out of business — to the contrary, they have enhanced their chances for survival (if they are smart).  They no longer have to worry about the underlying architecture and infrastructure of their product, they can ride on the cloud and just focus on the features and improving them.  This is the true meaning of working on the cloud – not worrying about the technology underneath but actually being able to focus on improving the Experience Continuum.

I know there are at least two to three years before we actually see this implemented and see more details (Chatter is not expected until late 2010 to begin with).  I know that it may not happen (yes, I read the Beta Agreement — sorry, Safe Harbor statement that Marc displayed on screen as well as everybody else).  And, yes, I will be disappointed if it does not happen — but even if that is the case, the milk has been spilled.  The path to the cloud has been uncovered.

I have sustained for some time that Salesforce was focusing on the applications too much and not enough on the infrastructure, and I finally got the sense that they are turning that around (of course, they will continue to make applications and sell them).  I see them as a platform provider with some decent to good applications.

Alas, by making the cloud matter they are not merely catching up to their competitors — they may even be leaping ahead… stay tuned!

So, what do YOU think of chatter?  Is it really a revolution in the basic infrastructure? Or an underwhelming set of social tools that are not even up to par with the market?  Please let me know your thoughts…

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23 Replies to “Why Chatter Matters”

  1. Hi Esteban,

    Frankly, when I saw the announcement and the Twitter stream, I got the feeling that they’re integrating the Past into their Future. Not a revolution but just an evolution (an not one that is even officially available yet – why would it take a year to integrate this?).

    It seems like this move is to make tools that are already accepted outside the company membrame acceptable to the C-suite as it will be integrated as the part of an Enterprise software package – easier to monitor thus easier to control (yeah, right!). Where is the innovation? In the fact that it is hosted externally – oops sorry,the “Cloud”?

    Oh well, they still have a year to bring some real innovation to the market… 😉
    .-= Mark Tamis´s last blog ..Social CRM for SMEs : WeCanDo.Biz Review =-.


    1. The tool itself is not even worth writing about (see my previous post saying that).

      The noteworthy stuff here is the evolution of the cloud – the concept of the cloud. Trust me, since the early 1960s we have been waiting for a truly distributed architecture. I have been behind — well, everything I can think of: CORBA, COM/DCOM, Distributed Architectures, TimeShare… and more! When the internet replaced VANs for inter-connectivity I was excited… and I have been waiting for 15 years to see something being made of that.

      So, what is the innovation? Taking nearly 50 years of theory and making it possible? no. The innovation is to come… Chatter matters as a proof-of-concept and a real data point towards real distributed architectures… it is just wait and see now.

      The application? interesting, making the apps talk directly into the social networks is probably best feature — but nowhere near as exciting as the platform developments.

      Am I wrong?


      1. You guys need to help me here. What is so important about “The Cloud”? I too see it as “hosting externally” which is not all that exciting to me. So why is “the cloud” exciting and why is this Chatter-thing so exciting in relation to the cloud (it’s obviously not the functionality that is exciting)

        I don’t get the excitement. Please explain, in as little technological words as possible.

        Thx. Wim 😉
        .-= Wim Rampen´s last blog ..Is Mr. Paradigm keeping up with Mr. Big? =-.


      2. Not wrong (as usual :))- a real advance would be distributed AND redundant architectures for apps AND data with performance independent whatever your geographic location is. Even Google has issues with this (think Gmail outages over the past year). And btw Gmail has a online chat feature built in)

        I think the real evolution is the general acceptance of the Cloud for Business purposes – having the tools managed externally so that you can concentrate on your business (co-creation of value with your ecosystem).

        The Marketing (or Education) has worked well…now let’s get down to business!
        .-= Mark Tamis´s last blog ..Social CRM for SMEs : WeCanDo.Biz Review =-.


  2. Hi Esteban,
    Nice post, I think you hit the nail on the head with regard to Chatter and it’s applicability. It is infrastructure and what many of the vendors in the Enterprise 2.0 world miss when looking for ROI. Who calculated the ROI on email? Yet, a lot of money was and continues to be spent on Exchange servers.

    What is cool about Chatter is that it puts social info and collaboration into the workflow of real business applications. This is the promise of social computing in the enterprise, and it does require infrastructure / infrastructure investment. Not only will it drive productivity, any enterprise that does not social-enable or make collaborative its applications will not be able to function in the not too distant future. After all, it is people that are working with these apps and the more informed and connected they are and the more streamlined the work, the better.

    With respect to your larger point in the comments above of whether the cloud will fulfill the long-held promise of a distributed architecture, it depends on how open Force.com will be in playing with other PaaS players. So far, it looks promising.
    .-= Brian Magierski´s last blog ..links for 2009-11-21 =-.


    1. Brian,

      Thanks for reading, the good comment, and the kind words in your blog about this write-up.

      I am glad to be getting the perspective of someone who has a vendor-twist and vendor-understanding to this situation. I totally agree with you about the interesting part of Chatter (yet- we won’t know until a year from now whether it delivers on that key point) is making applications social. The demos I saw from people doing applications in Force.com and leveraging the Chatter API were far more interesting than the use within SFDC’s applications.

      As for the PaaS interconnectivity, I think that we are moving in the right direction, but wish that MSFT, AMZN, and the other large PaaS providers were to get on board with that (I had a conversation with a vendor that is hosting their solution on AMZN at the show, and they are now thinking about migrating to Force.com to take advantage of Chatter and the promise of interconnectivity that was underneath the materials they made available on Force.com to partners). It going to be more than necessary to have as many PaaS providers as we can to get the cloud off the ground (if I was truly poetic I would say that we need to get the fog lifted and converted to a real cloud – bad pun). I agree it looks promising — but that is the subject of next blog post — probably Monday.

      Thanks, again, for the kind words…


    1. John,

      Once a troublemaker, always one I guess. That is a great idea, but I not very certain that is implementable… right?

      However, being able to work in a joint manner with your partners – even work the negotiations via social media for a deal with a vendor. Now, those are interesting ideas I can sink my teeth into…

      Thanks for the read


  3. Nice summary, Estaban. I agree with your overall assessment that there’s nothing technologically overwhelming here.
    My thoughts…there’s one key aspect to why this is so important to SF.com and particularly *their* salesforce…This will help sell more SF.com licenses. For examples, those ops, marketing, and product management folks that normally would be involved in email strings will now want to be part of the internal (chatter) conversation, and able to be closer to the account detail.
    In almost every enterprise deal or large customer support issue, there’s a tremendous amount of internal information discussed, exchanged, and executed. If that conversation gets moved from email to inside SF.com, it will not only cement the usage of sf.com, but sell more licenses. And, hence, as the CRM market grows, sf.com might claim a better percentage.
    Also, very interesting that Benioff never used the term – Social CRM – in his keynote. Why? ‘Cause what sf.com launched is what Oracle refers to as Social CRM — Internal sales collaboration.


    1. Dan,

      that is an interesting comment. i think that the short-term benefit would be more licenses, but in the long-run the platform becomes the key component here. licenses change meaning when you can rent the platform, much more interesting business model.



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