Salesforce.com's Marc Benioff: Don't call Chatter a social network

Salesforce.com announced a new product today called Chatter, which it describes as Facebook and Twitter for enterprises. But during a press and analyst session at the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, chief executive Marc Benioff said he doesn’t want you to think of Chatter as a social network.

That’s some, uh, creative thinking there — Chatter has employee profiles, status updates and news feeds, so it sounds a lot like a social network to me. And Benioff’s explanation suggested that the distinction has more to do with sales and marketing than anything else. Salesforce was careful to position Chatter as a collaboration tool, not a “social this or social that” because there’s such a glut of social networking tools, he said, and customers are more willing to pay for collaboration software.

“We really want to talk about collaboration, because that really is a budget item for our customers,” Benioff said.

He also said Chatter has the potential to dramatically expand Salesforce’s reach within its enterprise customers. As you might expect, the company’s sales applications are used mainly in sales departments, but Chatter can be useful throughout a company, and probably becomes more useful as more employees and teams sign up.

“The vast majority of our customers are using us in discrete business functions, and we don’t have an enterprise-wide app,” he said. “And now we do.”

One of the attendees reminded Benioff that he was dismissive about competitors’ approaches to cloud computing at last year’s Dreamforce, so she asked him for an update on his thoughts on Microsoft’s cloud platform Azure, which launched yesterday. Benioff struck a more conciliatory tone today, saying Microsoft is “certainly doing a better job.” He was less positive on business software company SAP, whose “religious and fanatical zeal and denial of the cloud may have destroyed the company.”

“But they’re very nice people,” he added.

Benioff also talked about his thoughts on cloud computing and the competition during my interview with him last month.


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