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Microsoft Apes Twitter with OfficeTalk

Today, Microsoft announced their belated entry into the microblogging market: the software giant is currently testing a Twitter-like service called OfficeTalk. OfficeTalk is intended for enterprise communication and collaboration, but as of yet has not been affiliated with any other Microsoft products (like SharePoint). Again, they’re late to the game here—Yammer, Socialtext, and others have been offering similar services for some time now—but if nothing else, OfficeTalk affirms Microsoft’s dedication to modern enterprise collaboration software.

If Salesforce Chatter is “Facebook for enterprise,” OfficeTalk most certainly wants to be Twitter for enterprise. Users create profiles and communicate in 140 characters or less; the actual feed resembles Facebook’s news feed quite a bit (see photo). OfficeTalkers can also see the number of mentions, posts, and followers, and there is a URL shortening function and comment threading for conversations.

It’s a little difficult to speculate the future of OfficeTalk in these very early stages. But one thing is clear: Microsoft wants their product to stand out in the enterprise, and appear to be doing this by making the service on-premise. True, most organizations are moving toward SaaS deployments for their business software needs, and those unwilling to leap entirely into the cloud are implementing hybrid models (part SaaS, part on-premise). Microsoft hasn’t indicated whether OfficeTalk will go to the cloud (let’s hope it does, if they want the product to have a chance of survival), but it’s tough to say how far it would go as a solely on-premise product.

Some tech pundits are positing that OfficeTalk will be swept under the rug if it’s packaged with bigger Microsoft products, but we think the best-case scenario is that they fold it into SharePoint. Incorporating OfficeTalk into SharePoint, and also making it available in the cloud, would certainly boost SharePoint’s competitive merits. It might not make SharePoint as hip an enterprise collaboration suite as Salesforce Chatter, but it could give the platform better social media street cred.

Of course, we’ll likely have to wait for OfficeTalk’s general release before we can get a real read on the product. Those commenting on the news aren’t hopeful, and mostly point out that it’s not a revolutionary product, but who knows. Maybe Microsoft knows something we don’t know.

[Photo courtesy of pri.]