Salesforce Chatter, the cloud-based, real-time collaboration service first introduced at Dreamforce '09 in November, has formally entered beta testing with a handful of Salesforce.com customers.
At this point, Chatter remains a private, invitation-only beta, with about 100 customers -- including Reed Exhibitions, Schumacher Group, and TransUnion -- getting the first crack at the new service.
Salesforce (NYSE: CRM) positions Chatter as an on-demand alternative to on-premises software like SharePoint from Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Lotus Notes from IBM (NYSE: IBM). Key to its value proposition is the fact that the Chatter software can be accessed from anywhere, including a smartphone.
"The end of legacy collaboration software like Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Lotus Notes is here," Salesforce.com Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff said in a statement. "Consumer Internet services like Facebook and Twitter have shown us better ways to collaborate. Using the same social features and real-time feeds popularized by these consumer services, Salesforce Chatter changes the game for collaboration in the enterprise -- all without the cost and complexity of software."
Chatter's interface resembles the popular consumer social networking sites with chat, news feeds and profiles. But it's more secure and targeted toward an enterprise audience, providing users with access to data and documents and allowing them to create business profiles with professional information like personal contact data, area of expertise, and work history, making it equal parts Facebook and LinkedIn.
Users can post status updates and share files, links and other data around a project, sales deal or customer service support case -- the three areas Salesforce supports through its other services.
Chatter will be integrated into the Salesforce homepage along with the other dashboard components, like reports, approvals, workflow, tasks and the calendar. In addition to internally generated content, Chatter will support feeds from news outlets like Dow Jones and Thomson Reuters, and updates from other users can be streamed as a feed. Users can also receive feeds from other parts of the corporate organization, like HR.
All status updates from a customer's Sales Cloud, Service Cloud or custom Force.com application are also represented in the feed. The apps now have the ability to post status updates to alert users, such as by flagging a new sales opportunity or change in customer contact.
When it finally emerges from beta sometime this year, Salesforce Chatter will be available for free along with all paid editions of Salesforce CRM and the Force.com platform. Businesses that don't use either of these products can pay $50 per user per month for access.