Salesforce is positioning the new product as an alternative to Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Lotus Notes, which is really not an accurate portrayal, as Chatter is more about social-style communications integrated into other applications than what would be considered a full-on collaboration suite.
Regardless of how it's classified, the new Chatter social program looks as if it will be a nice addition to Salesforce, turning data about customers into real-time information. If there is one thing to complain about with any customer relationship management, or CRM, system, it's the fact that you have to know what you want to see, either while you are in process, or when creating dashboards and reports.
It's also a challenge to get a worldview of your customers, when you have multiple sales representatives. By sharing data streams, users and managers can better address time-sensitive information.
In the early stage of a company, especially when doing market research, you come across a lot of information and links that are really not worthy of e-mails but that you'd like to be reminded of--or at least alert your team of.
The same applies when your company gets a bit bigger, and your team is scouring the Web for information about new prospects or the competition. The ability to associate this data can be hugely helpful, provided that it can be consumed in an aggregate fashion.
Analyst firm Gartner recently predicted that by 2014, social-networking services will replace e-mail as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20 percent of business users. It also predicted that by 2012, more than 50 percent of enterprises will use activity streams that include microblogging, but standalone enterprise microblogging will have less than 5 percent penetration.
Having spent a fair amount of time on Twitter, the new Google Buzz, and Yammer, I've found it a struggle to have to go to multiple sites to update information or broadcast things out. And while it is still unclear how Salesforce will let you export your data, if you stop using the service, using Chatter still would probably be preferable to sending yourself and your users to multiple sites or services.
Chatter is a lot like what I would expect Twitter to introduce for enterprise users (if and when the company ever truly tries to make money), as enterprises are willing to use cloud services as long, as they are assured that the data remains private and secure. Having all your data integrated into one aggregate location--especially the one that contains your customer information--makes a lot of sense.