NEW YORK-Salesforce.com's upcoming Salesforce Chatter, offering a Facebook-like social collaboration platform for enterprise workers, represents a substantial bet on the company's part that its customers-and the enterprise in general-will want to embrace cloud-based enterprise tools that behave like the social-networking applications workers use to keep up with friends and family in their spare time.
Taking the stage during a high-profile presentation here April 8, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff suggested that it was time for enterprise applications such as the ones offered by his company to take a philosophical page from Facebook, YouTube and other startups of the past few years-companies that represent the forefront of the next paradigm in cloud-based computing, which he termed, "Cloud 2."
"I know more about strangers on Facebook than I do about my own employees," Benioff joked. "But that shows there are exciting new models we can learn from."
Benioff went on to trace the progression of computing from 1960s mainframes through desktops. "For the last 10 years, we've really been participating in something really exciting: the desktop Internet phenomenon," he said. "But something huge is happening in our industry right now, and it happens every 10 years or so in our industry. ... The door is opening, and we all have to go through it."
That door, apparently, is "a new mobile Internet revolution that's kind of a transformation from the desktop Internet." As a demonstration of the Internet's move in a direction that embraces mobility and social networking sites such as Facebook, Benioff displayed a graph showing that social networking users now surpass e-mail users: "E-mail is kind of the old system."
The new version of the cloud, Benioff said, is about real-time collaboration, mobile devices, social applications and a social platform.
In the past, Benioff has used the platform of his high-profile presentations to make similar predictions about the future of the enterprise cloud. During a March 2009 speech here, the CEO insisted, "Platforms are moving to a service. It's not just about apps; it's about platforms."
Salesforce Chatter will be released for customers sometime later in 2010, although its beta preview has been expanded to more than 500 companies. It will be included in all paid editions of Salesforce CRM and Force.com.
"We are in the era of Cloud 2, where social networking use has surpassed e-mail, Facebook and YouTube use have outpaced search, and new mobile devices like the iPad are creating entirely new ways to interact with information," Benioff wrote in a statement ahead of the news conference. "With today's announcement, Salesforce.com is advancing the shift to Cloud 2, where productivity gains are going to come from real-time collaboration available on any device. We've seen the future of enterprise software, and it looks more like Facebook on the iPad than Yahoo on the PC."
Salesforce executives suggested to eWEEK in a separate conversation that applying a social networking philosophy to enterprise applications would bring a certain amount of focus; just as Facebook users, for example, have granular control over their lists of friends and information feeds, so too will cloud-based enterprise applications be able to provide data and tools for collaboration without overwhelming the user. With Chatter, for example, users can decide which colleagues they want to bring into the loop to help tackle a particular issue.
In addition, Salesforce is releasing AppExchange 2, which includes social-enabled apps from companies such as FinancialForce.com and Genius.com. Force.com Labs apps available for free through AppExchange 2's ChatterExchange include ChatterViz, Chatter Case Triage, Chatter Mass Follower, Chatter Timeline, Chatter Live Tag Cloud and Chatter + Google Alerts.