Chatter Not Just 'Facebook for the Enterprise'

As Chatter hits GA, Director of Platform Research Peter Coffee spoke with eWEEK about the new cloud-based collaboration platform's potential to change the way businesses collaborate internally and externally. customers now have a new way to communicate and collaborate. On June 22, announced the general availability of Chatter, a cloud-based enterprise social collaboration application and platform.

Chatter applies social networking features made popular by Facebook and Twitter-such as profiles, status updates and real-time feeds-to business collaboration. Chatter was launched in private beta in February.

Click here to view a slide show on's new Chatter. Director of Platform Research Peter Coffee recently spoke with Debra Donston, Ziff Davis Enterprise Director of Audience Recruitment and Development, about the implications of Chatter-and social networking in general-in the enterprise. Following are excerpts from the discussion.

Chatter looks and feels very much like Facebook. How is Chatter similar and how is it different from the social networking most of us use today?

People are very excited about the social networking model. We've been sharing numbers that indicate social network interaction has surpassed e-mail as people's preferred mode of interaction and collaboration.

The drawback to the business use of this model has been the accurate perception that public social networks emphasize ease of sharing-and share lots of stuff, in a very straight-forward and convenient way-but if you want to have precise management of what you do and do not share, and with whom you do or do not share it, that requires a tremendous amount of effort. Various public social tools have been known to introduce features with liberal sharing as the default, requiring a constant effort to get the spilled ants back in the nest to keep a confidence that you have control of the sharing behaviors.

We started with a different direction. We started with the trust model that's at the bottom of the platform, where every data object type that you use from our standard portfolio--or that you create by using the facilities for creating custom data-has four distinct privileges: the privilege to create new ones, to delete existing ones, to view existing ones, or to edit existing ones. Those are four separate privileges, and every object type has them.

Our customers define what we call profiles through groups of privileges: Some people have privileges to read things, and some people have privileges to change things, and some people have purely administrative privileges to clean up things by deleting them, which doesn't necessarily mean they can look at them first.

We thought, what if you start with that highly granular, auditable model and added the dynamic behaviors of social networks? If you have privileges to look at something, now you can follow something, you can receive dynamic updates from that something. And what if beyond just having people following each other and talking about things that are happening with their data, what if the data itself could launch an update? What if an account could have something like a Facebook page? What if an opportunity or a case could have something like that? And what if this could integrate across multiple networks?

Imagine that a customer is having a problem with your product or service and they Tweet about that-because, let's face it, people don't begin by calling the company 800 number and the help desk. They begin by looking for help from their social network on Facebook or Twitter or whatever.

So, let's imagine that an unhappy or uncertain customer or prospect Tweets something that looks like something you ought to address. What if you could capture that tweet-automatically, because you're constantly searching the tweet-stream for messages about your company and your products-immediately package that tweet into a problem-resolution case, automatically query the skills matrix or expertise matrix, and notify three or four people in your company that they have just been made part of a case-resolution group for this issue? When they work the problem and have a resolution, they paste in the recommended answer to the customer and hit a button. The reply a.) goes back to Twitter, which means that the person who did the original tweet gets the answer and all the people who follow that person see that the problem was answered and that your company was actively participating in this conversation, and that's great b.) the initial problem and recommended solution could also be compiled into your own FAQ database, which, using something like Salesforce Sites, can immediately be reflected in a public-facing FAQ Website.

All of this can happen within minutes-without any e-mails, no one trying to figure out how to forward e-mails to get all of this done-because all of this can be designed and constructed as a workflow. So, the fact that at the top layer you have something that bears a striking resemblance to the Facebook model, that's really cool, because that's the way that people have already demonstrated they want to work. But look behind the scenes at the fact that this is grounded in this application platform with these incredible integration facilities, automation tools, process management facilities, and underlying security and trust model, and it really opens the door to a completely new class of business applications that you can call social process monitoring.