Salesforce's plans for Chatter include Chatter Now real-time capabilities, Chatter Connect integration, and an opening up of the app to collaborators outside of a Salesforce.com customer Chatter network. All three upgrades are set for the Salesforce.com Winter '12 release in October 2011.
Chatter Now will give the applications presence-awareness and screen-sharing capabilities--most likely from the company's January 2011 Dimdim acquisition--so users can see when colleagues are online and instantly chat without leaving the collaborative feed.
Chatter Connect will use the application's REST-based API to extend the social feed into custom and third-party apps. Leading with what's likely to be a popular integration option, the company will introduce Chatter for SharePoint, which will enable customers to embed Chatter feeds into Microsoft SharePoint MySites and TeamSites. The Connect option will also enable users to share documents from SharePoint to Chatter.
The planned Chatter Customer Groups option will enable users to invite people from outside their organization into their Chatter network. It's an obvious idea, given that Salesforce has a public-facing Chatter.com website. But opening up Chatter to people outside a company is also fraught with security implications: Will customers be able to see internal content and discussions?
Salesforce has taken a number of security precautions, according to Falcione. First, customers and partners have to be specifically invited to join a group and they must set up a user ID and password login when they join the group. Second, the group organizer has complete control over what files, feeds, and status updates are shared within that group. Finally, to avoid confusion about internal verses external collaboration, external collaborator profiles will be color coded with large orange bars over the profile pictures; internal groups and collaborators are color coded blue.
Salesforce.com claims Chatter is being used by more than 100,000 customers, but it does not break out how many are using the free app, which is built into Salesforce.com, and how many are paying $15 per user, per month extra for the Chatter Plus version of the application.
Salesforce is clearly banking on Chatter as important extension of its software-as-a-service application portfolio, adding new functionality, access, and integration options to try to make the app as useful and connected as possible. The pressure to upgrade to the paid version of the app can wait until it has a sticky place within--and soon extending outside of--the enterprise.
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