As tech giants eye the cloud computing market, Salesforce.com chief executive Marc Benioff made it clear that he intends to stay competitive. During his keynote speech today at the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, he first discussed Force.com Sites, the service for hosting public-facing websites and apps that I covered last night. Then he announced that Salesforce.com is connecting its business application platform with Facebook and Amazon.
The Facebook announcement is probably the most significant, because it allows developers for Force.com (Salesforce’s platform for business applications) to tap into the huge number of users on Facebook. (Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, announced on-stage that Facebook now has more than 120 million active users per month, up 30 million from just three months ago.) It’s also a way for Facebook to introduce more business-oriented apps into its own platform, which is largely dominated by fun and gimmicky consumer-oriented apps.
There are two basic components to Force.com for Facebook. First, as I mentioned, Force.com developers can now introduce their applications into the Facebook platform. Second, Force.com applications can integrate Facebook social data through Facebook Connect.
Salesforce presented two sample applications on-stage. The first was a job recruiting tool built by Appirio, which lets you recommend your Facebook friends for jobs, similar to the way you can refer connections on business networking site LinkedIn. The second involved integrating My Starbucks Idea, where customers submit suggestions to Starbucks, into Facebook. If a user submits a Starbucks idea through Facebook, their friends will see it in their news feeds and can comment on the idea or submit their own.
The Amazon announcement is also significant, particularly because it shows that Salesforce and Amazon’s cloud hosting services can be complementary. Now you can build an app on Force.com, make it available to the public through Force.com Sites, then tap into the computing and storage offered by Amazon. For example, there’s a new app called Lasso, which lets you photograph business cards and view them in your Salesforce.com account. Lasso was built on Force.com, but it uses Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud for image processing, and Amazon’s Simple Storage Service to store the images.
Finally, after bringing tech stars like Sandberg onto the stage, Benioff introduced some real starpower — famed musician Neil Young. Young (pictured, above) is spearheading an initiative called Linc Volt, which retrofits existing automobiles with clean technology, namely electric batteries and a natural gas engine. The Linc Volt site is hosted on Force.com Sites, and it includes some cool Salesforce integration, including a chart that’s constantly updated with information from Young’s Linc Volt car.
Overall, the keynote pffered a promising vision: Salesforce will continue expanding its business application platform and connecting it to other Internet clouds. Benioff is a natural salesman, but I don’t think it was just PR-speak when he said he isn’t concerned about Microsoft’s recent announcement that it’s launching its own cloud application platform called Windows Azure; Benioff playfully described Azure as “future vaporware.”
“I can’t even pronounce it,” he said. “I don’t even know. I don’t care. The important thing is, they said [they're entering the cloud].”