Commentary Yet Another Collaboration Option

Super Bowl ads will tout's new 'freemium' service. But is microblogging the best way to keep up on corporate matters? And will any one tool be used by all?
As any Facebook user knows, it's easy to miss the latest comments in a massive, reverse-chronological listing of updates, particularly if you have lots of connections. says it has enhanced usability in the latest version of Chatter with new features including filters that let you follow and browse updates of specific activities, groups or users. You can also set alerts for topic-critical updates.

The Chatter update also keeps up with the mainstream networks, adding support for @mentions, hash tags, "Like it" voting and monitoring of trending topics.

In short, Chatter Free and are's answer to make the application a self-standing, enterprisewide affair. But there's no guarantee even Super Bowl advertising will move would-be users outside their collaboration comfort zones. customer Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company started using Chatter last year, but the original service provisions limited collaboration to sales professionals. Chatter provided a way to contribute to proposals and keep up on the status of pending deals.

"The editorial folks and other office workers use Cube Tree [from Success Factors] quite extensively," said Houghton Mifflin Harcourt CIO Paul Wilcox in a recent interview with Information Week.

Cube Tree was a viral implementation, according to Wilcox, initiated by non-sales employees rather than promoted by IT. In fact, the publisher also has a Microsoft SharePoint implementation, but that environment is used for more structured purposes such as project management, Wilcox said.

Now that there's Chatter Free, every Houghton Mifflin Harcourt employee is entitled to a free Chatter user account. What's more, all Chatter activity across the company could be linked and centrally administered. The question Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, other customers and new users will have to answer is, is this a tool all employees will embrace? The publisher already had SharePoint, after all, but sales employees were opting for Chatter while editorial employees found a virtual water cooler in Cube Tree.

Despite IT efforts to standardize and consolidate, there's a profusion of collaboration options ranging from incumbent platforms like SharePoint and Lotus, to services likes, Yammer and CubeTree, to public networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. As a result, capturing the corporate conversation is a task akin to herding cats.

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