How Salesforce Missed their Golden Opportunity with Free Chatter


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Today, January 31 2011, Salesforce made their Chatter product available for free to any company in the world.

There are certain limitations to the offer: there is no access to the reporting dashboards, no access to the AppExchange marketplace, and all user accounts must be in the same domain name.  Under this model, the first user that creates the collaboration community becomes the moderator, and she can then assign others to moderate the community; in addition, if a company finds out that a community exists without management approval, Salesforce will give the company’s IT moderator access to that community.

In bringing Chatter to compete into a crowded internal collaboration space with minor distinctive features and no innovation in the operating models, Salesforce proves that they are more focused on selling their applications than on building the platform they have been promising for a long time.  This is something they have hinted at from the beginning – claiming Chatter is “both an application and a platform”, closing access to Chatter only to those companies that were already Salesforce customers (essentially forcing those that were not to become Salesforce customers), and focusing on how to bring more people to use their applications.  Chatter as a platform, what I advocated to be their opportunity to success when I first wrote about it, is not where their focus is.

Before the accusations and complaints begin – I do understand the issues of “free and open access to anyone”: corporate espionage, leaking of sensitive and confidential information, compliance with internal and external regulations – including gubernatorial regulations and many more privacy, security, and legal issues.  It is not easy to create a truly collaborative enterprise that will allow collaboration among all stakeholders, user, customer, prospects, partner, suppliers, employees and basically anyone that wants to.  It is not about creating the community – it is about securing the platform (and one of the reasons why this model is so well suited to a real cloud computing architecture, where the security and administration of the data used in the community can be managed either at the Platform or Infrastructure level).

There are other issues, too many to cover in a short blog post, but suffice to say: a company the size of Salesforce, with their purported commitment to developing platforms, their embrace of the cloud computing architecture, and their desire to change the way business operate was the ideal candidate to bring something different to the table – and they did not.

What would I have done differently?

I would’ve have taken the exceptional talent they have in the Chatter product management and development team and focus them on creating the Platform and Infrastructure components that would allow anyone – without regards to their email address or their location – to collaborate (Socialcast can do this today, why can’t others?).  I would’ve focus their efforts in building the necessary integration with an existing Rules Server, or created a set of rules that would allow the data to be shared to conform to certain standards and principles: data would need to be classified as safe to share before it was allowed to be shared.  I would’ve ask them to make sure that the collaboration model they were building allowed anyone to come into the community, use the appropriate data, and collaborate to create complex solutions to the complex problems the organization is facing.

In other words, I would’ve focused on building a framework for a collaborative enterprise.

Salesforce had an opportunity to create a new model of collaboration, bringing the idea of a collaborative enterprise closer to fruition – and instead decided to become not only another “me too” competitor in the crowded space of internal collaboration – but one that won’t hesitate to sell out collaboration and communities in exchange for remaining in good graces with IT and the management that buys their applications.

They missed their Golden Opportunity.

What do you think? Am I off? Am I putting too much responsibility in their shoulders? Could that model be created? Is it wanted by the organizations? Needed by the users?

Would love to hear what you have to say.  Leave me a comment.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Esteban Kolsky
ThinkJar, LLC
Esteban Kolsky is the founder of CRM intelligence & strategy where he works with vendors to create go-to market strategies for Customer Service and CRM and with end-users leveraging his results-driven, dynamic Customer Experience Management methodology to earn and retain loyal customers. Previously he was a well-known Gartner analyst and created a strategic consulting practice at eVergance.


  1. did what any tech company would do, seize the opportunity. I think it’s a brilliant move to get Chatter out into new enterprises. But, it could backfire if the companies that use the free social tool discover it doesn’t actually make them more collaborative. By then will have established its position.

    The great enterprise social network land grab is on. Hitch up the wagons and go claim your territory!


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