Another salvo in the battle for social enterprise market- and mindshare is being fired on Wednesday, when Salesforce.com takes the stage at Oracle OpenWorld to unveil what it's calling a major upgrade to its Chatter collaboration tool.Chatter, released three months ago, is, like most enterprise 2.0 tools, a mashup (mishmash?) of Facebook- and Twitter-like features. Except, instead of giving status updates and shout-outs to your 5,000 BFFs, you're making your workday transparent to far-flung colleagues -- many of whom you don't yet know -- so your skills and projects can serendipitously intersect for the benefit of your organization.
The twist Salesforce.com adds -- and one which may turn out to be a big market advantage -- is that it's also turned Chatter outward, enabling it to plug into its Salesforce CRM and Force.com solutions. So I'm not saying that this'll enable Salesforce.com to "win" the E2.0 race. Au contraire; there are powerful competitors, notably what I call the Big Three-and-a-Half. That's Cisco, with Quad; IBM, with Lotus Live; Microsoft, with Office 2012 and Sharepoint; and Jive Software with Clearspace.
Where Salesforce.com does seem to have carved out a niche lead, though, is in applying collaboration tools to workplace teams who deal with customers--particularly customer problems. I saw a powerful demo about a year ago where Salesforce.com showcased how it enabled monitoring of customer Tweets, to get ahead of the complaints curve. (Like when you tweet that your cable is down, and a company rep tells you they're on it, so that you feel better, even if it doesn't really get fixed any faster.)
OK, so back to Salesforce.com's OpenWorld announcement, which is all about Chatter 2. From what I can tell from the info Salesforce.com sent me, Chatter 2 adds a whole bunch of under-the-hood tools, such as information filters, reports, and analytics dashboards. Nice stuff, but it doesn't move the needle on the main point of interest, which is the market jockeying for position.
In that regard, Salesforce.com is touting the fact that "more than 20,000 companies including Hitachi, Misys, Reed Exhibitions and Softbank have deployed Chatter" and that "Dell has deployed Salesforce Chatter across its sales and marketing departments."
Good news, but remember that early deployment wins are necessary, though not sufficient, for ultimate enterprise success. As in, the current phase of the E2.0 battle involves companies pushing out their collaboration tools to their installed base of customers of their other (main) products. The real big wins will come when users decide which tools they really want to embrace. More about that in upcoming columns and posts.
Meanwhile, send me your E2.0 interests and opinions. Leave a comment below or e-mail me directly at email@example.com.
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Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.