Developers have built tens of thousands of applications on Salesforce's Force.com platform, meaning they used Salesforce's Apex development language and run them in its data centers, where they are delivered in a software-as-a-service model.
But typically these applications are add-ons to the company's sales force automation/customer-relationship management offerings, such as a small software utility by Appirio to sync a Salesforce calendar with a Google Apps calendar.
Force.com Sites will let developers build applications to run in Salesforce.com data centers, use the company's Visualforce tool to develop public-facing Web pages, and register a domain name. Salesforce.com sees the effort as expanding the role of its Force.com platform in the bigger trend toward cloud computing.
A company, for example, could build a staff recruiting application that runs on Force.com that the general public could access on the Web. It could be presented as an independent Web site; it also could be presented as if it were part of a company's existing Web site, with a similar look and feel, but hosted by Salesforce.com.
Salesforce.com hasn't had to build out its data centers for this new offering, said Bruce Francis, the company's VP of corporate strategy, in an interview. Most of the work involved writing new software code and tweaking the Force.com platform to support access by potentially thousands of people over the Web.
Salesforce.com says an example of Force.com Sites in play is an online marketplace for Cathedral Partners that its business partner Appirio built, to match private businesses and investors. Another, Jobs4MyFriends, runs on Facebook and can be used by a company to recruit new employees by using existing employees' friend's networks.
Force.com Sites' four-tiered pricing will be based on the number of monthly page views to a site. It's currently only available as a developer preview, and is slated for general availability next year.