Today I attended Cloudforce in London: essentially the Salesforce.com Dreamforce conference on tour. The platform marches on: CEO Marc Benioff says the company is growing at 20% per year, and in general the customers I spoke too seem pleased with their choice. Benioff was as usual full of jabs at the “old stuff” – things like Siebel, Microsoft Office, anything that is not Cloud – but made so many jibes aimed at SharePoint that I began to think he has some respect for Microsoft’s document collaboration platform.
The major theme of the conference was Chatter, which is being rolled out to Salesforce.com users next year. Chatter takes key features from Twitter, including status updates and followers, and integrates them with the platform. There is also a Facebook-like profile page for all users. We saw several possible applications for the feature:
- Keeping in touch with what colleagues are up to
- Keeping in touch with progress on specific projects or opportunities, which can have their own status feeds
- Using the Chatter mechanism as a commenting system, for example for collaborating on a draft document
There is a security mechanism, whereby alerts can be restricted to certain people or groups. You can also filter alerts to reduce noise.
We also saw a desktop client built with Adobe AIR, for monitoring status feeds in the same style as familiar Twitter clients.
While I don’t question the potential of Chatter, the current craze for Twitterising everything reminds me of the hype around RSS a few years back, which which it has many parallel. In the end it is another way to communicate, with better contextualisation than email and less vulnerability to spam.
Twitter itself has little chance of penetrating the Enterprise, when it is so easy to re-implement its essential features.
There was not much developer content here, sadly, though we did see a “30 minute Cloudforce application” in one of the sessions. It was all wizard-drive data form design, and strongly reminiscent of what we used to with the likes of Access and FileMaker, but all browser-hosted. One difference though is that the Salesforce platform has built-in workflow and approval. Another advantage is that you are in effect extending an application that already knows about your organisation’s users and contacts. The result is that working applications can be put together quickly, provided that they fit nicely with the platform model.