In short, Chatter is a social networking application that is built into Salesforce.com.  It is structured to be an "internal social networking" application but can also be easily linked to public facing social networking sites.  Some of the highlights:

  • It can work very similarly to Facebook.com - you can post comments to the site and others in the organization can view the comments that their friends post.
  • Visually, it looks similar to a Facebook page.
  • Individuals can add comments to posts that they see on Chatter.
  • But the real strength is that any record on any object in Salesforce.com can be Chatter enabled. 
  • What's more, it includes fairly sophisticated filtering functions. So (note: some of this is guesswork as I don't have a working copy of Chatter yet):
    • A manager can get Chatter notices whenever one of their reps opens a new opportunity.
    • An executive can get a notification whenever a case to a top 10 client is open for more than 1 day.
    • Everyone on a specific project (assuming you have a custom object for projects) can can notified whenever anything on the project changes - and can post notes for everyone else on the project team to see on their chatter list.
    • Management can see a notification when employee utilization rates are too high (triggering a need to reschedule work or consider expanding staffing).

In Salesforce.com's usual style, they rolled out this great new functionality at a general session and few in attendance seemed to really get the magnitude of this (it reminded me of the rollout of the AppExchange and Custom Applications - it took 12-24 months for the marketplace to understand the importance of this innovation).

Those of you who know me know that I don't spend a lot of time drinking the kool aid served up by the technology vendors.  But this is a huge announcement for a variety of reasons:

  1. This finally simplifies the communication process that all CRM applications suffer from.  Salesforce.com does a great job of organizing CRM type data (and other XRM/platform data) into a database.  But it was never easy enough for users to get the data they wanted at the time they wanted it.  Even with the inclusion of reports, dashboards, views, workflow alerts, etc - it was difficult to find the right data and then find a way to communicate about the data in an easy way.  Once users grasp this, you will begin to see the Chatter application become one of the most used portions of the application.
  2. It is available to include in any custom apps that are developed for Salesforce.com.  You will see developers leveraging this capability like crazy to significantly enhance their Salesforce.com apps (with relatively little effort).
  3. It is a direct challenge to both Microsoft CRM and SharePoint.  We're big fans of both Microsoft and Salesforce.com.  This functionality takes some of what you will see in SharePoint 2010, and directly integrates it with the Salesforce.com platform.  Microsoft will be under pressure to roll out this functionality in a way that integrates between SharePoint and Microsoft CRM - and they will be under tremendous pressure to make it as simple as Salesforce.com has made it.  Will they wait until CRM 5 to do this - or will they roll out a Solution Accelerator prior to that time?  The interesting thing is that this is not a simple integration (at least with the current versions of SharePoint and CRM) - it will be interesting to see if Microsoft can offer a complete answer to this competitive threat.
  4. It potentially competes with Google Wave.  I don't know as much as I would like to about Google Wave - but Salesforce.com and Google seem to have had a pretty cozy relationship.  It will be interesting to see how the two firms deal with this area of potential overlap.  Maybe this will re-fuel some of the old rumors that Google plans to acquire Salesforce.com.
  5. In typical Salesforce.com style, it is very easy to deploy this.  That seems like a small point - but this is what results in much more rapid adoption of these functions.
  6. Unified Social Networking.  Because it can link a user's internal social networking, Facebook and Twitter (and any other social networks that can be accessed via Salesforce.com objects), then it gives the user a unified social network that they can use to manage all of their social networks.  Think that's nice but no big deal?  Think about this: very few other businesses are in a position to do this - because you have to own a part of the enterprise infrastructure - because the enterprise social network lives "behind the firewall" (not exactly correct in the case of Salesforce.com - but the point is that items on the enterprise social network, such as that hosted by Salesforce.com, cannot be accessed via outside tools such as Facebook.com).  That pretty quickly limits the large competitors for this space to Salesforce.com and Microsoft.  Maybe a few others (such as Google) have a possibility of going there - but my experience is that Google is not being adopted in large corporations to the same extent as Salesforce.com and Microsoft SharePoint/CRM.
  7. A threat to Outlook?  Well, maybe not yet.  But this is another step closer towards replacing Outlook as the ubiquitous desktop application that is the hub of most corporate and customer communications.  Every CRM application has to integrate with Outlook - and you know Salesforce.com would like to find a way to directly challenge Microsoft's dominance in this area.  Make no mistake, it's not a complete replacement yet - but if it is a step in that direction (and I think it is), then it could indeed end up being the most significant announcement in Salesforce.com's history.

Another great announcement from Salesforce that it is hard to quantify early on - but continue to watch this innovation and I believe you'll see that it was a fundamental step towards a much larger vision.