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Will Salesforce Chatter One-Up Microsoft SharePoint?

The much-hyped Salesforce Chatter went into private beta earlier this month, and demonstrations given to customers have made a definite effort to highlight the platform’s “fun” qualities—not just its functionalities. On Wednesday, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff noted in a guest post on TechCrunch that he’s long wondered why enterprise software isn’t more like Facebook, and that the giant social network is the inspiration for the Salesforce Chatter.

Since Chatter was announced last year at the Dreamforce conference, arguments have been made on both sides as to whether or not the enterprise needs this kind of social networking. Now that Chatter has gone into beta, however, people are focusing their attention on whether or not Chatter is a viable threat to Microsoft SharePoint. Yes, SharePoint is widely used, but Salesforce execs note that it is not a “fun” product. It’s functional—and Salesforce Chatter aims to bring both collaborative functionality and, to an extent, entertainment.

Salesforce’s George Hu, the Executive VP of Marketing and Alliances, stated from the first that Salesforce wants to poach from the SharePoint market. Chatter is, of course, very different from SharePoint—SharePoint is a much more traditional collaboration platform, with file sharing over email and through folders, client software, Microsoft Exchange, etc. Chatter’s focus on collaboration mimics the concept of Facebook’s feeds—the necessary information is brought to the user, and they don’t have to mine unsorted data for what they need. In addition, Chatter gives a face and a voice to all employees using it, which can be especially helpful in a large enterprise.

Chatter’s resemblance to Facebook has, in many ways, branded it as a social networking tool, but it boasts some good document sharing and collaboration features, which will likely sway some SharePoint users to the platform. Chatter will be generally released this summer, and users will need to be using the Salesforce CRM platform to access it—this fact could definitely prevent SharePoint users from switching.

It’s tough to say how big a bite Chatter will take out of SharePoint. Chatter has the advantage of social networking, which is becoming a fixture in enterprise despite the fact that many deem it a distraction. It’ll be interesting to hear more about the platform in the coming months, and read more reviews when it’s generally released. We’re also curious to see what kind of competitive improvements Microsoft makes to SharePoint—the platform isn’t static, and surely Microsoft will take some measures to absorb the Chatter-impact.

[Photo courtesy of watsupptoday.]