Salesforce.com launches private beta for Chatter

The on-demand CRM vendor's push into social collaboration takes aim at Lotus and SharePoint

Salesforce.com on Wednesday announced a private beta program for Chatter, the enterprise collaboration platform first announced last year, positioning it as an alternative to Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Lotus Notes.

Chatter incorporates a range of familiar features, such as profiles, status updates from people or applications, document sharing and integrations with third-party sources such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Buzz. Some 100 companies will participate in the beta.

Applications sold on Salesforce.com's AppExchange can be tied into Chatter, which also includes support for mobile devices.

In addition, Salesforce.com is providing programmers who use its Force.com development platform with pre-built "social components" for creating new collaborative applications or adding such features to existing ones.

Chatter's general release date will come sometime this year, according to Salesforce.com. It will be included in paid versions of Salesforce CRM and Force.com, and will also be available in a separate edition costing US$50 per user per month that bundles Chatter, Salesforce Content and Force.com.

The announcement comes as a second generation in cloud computing unfolds, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff said during an event in San Francisco Wednesday.

Initially, cloud computing was about rapid deployments, quicker returns on investment and easier use, Benioff said. "Cloud 2 is very different. We're going to see new types of collaboration, new types of productivity, and see real-time [activity] be a critical part of what this is."

Benioff was joined onstage by Douglas Menefee, CIO of the Schumacher Group, which is participating in the Chatter private beta.

The Lafayette, Louisiana, company manages about 150 emergency medicine departments around the country, Menefee said.

Chatter should make Schumacher's workers more productive, according to Menefee. "It's going from having to dig for information and having information fed to you," he said.

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