Note – this post was embargoed until tomorrow morning but alas (and again) that embargo was broken by others. Since it was, I’m releasing the post early… but not happily.

About the time you read this, salesforce CEO Marc Benioff [note – it will not be Benioff on stage but rather George Hu, John Wookey, and Linda Crawford] will be taking the stage at CloudForce in London to announce (finally) the general availability of Chatter Messenger. I had the opportunity to have a pre-brief of Messenger when I was in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago and spent an hour or so talking about the longer-term roadmap and opportunity for Chatter with Dave King, Director of Chatter for salesforce.

Messenger sees salesforce roll out technology they gained from the acquisition of DimDim – real time aims to build upon the usage of Chatter by offering a whole raft of real time functionality that will remove the need for organizations to continue using a number of tools they currently do. Real time enables presence for all Chatter users so one can see if a particular contact is online and available – it include instant messaging, group chat and screen sharing. The idea being that colleagues can move collaboration out of its existing silos (be it skype, other IM tools or whatever) and have it become an intrinsic part of the business process. Messenger was first announced at DreamForce last August raising some questions about the nine months it’s taken to go from announcement to general availability.

It’s a compelling proposition – the ability to create a Chatter group on the fly, to pull people into a conversation around a particular topic or workflow, and to have visibility over all of that is valuable. But it’s not all plain sailing – at this stage there is no archiving for messenger – any conversations that occur within Messenger are lost once the browser is closed – not only does this cause some real problems for the very problem Chatter is trying to solve – data surfacing – but it also introduces some real challenges around compliance – having messages disappear is a Sarbanes Oxley nightmare. King told me that archiving is definitely coming in the winter 2012 release – but personally I believe it should be released at the same time as the Messenger product itself. Bear in mind that full archiving occurs with Google Messenger product – GChat.

An interesting features is Chatter favorites – this gives users the ability to apply filters to Chatter and set up “favorites” that, over time, lead to Chatter delivering up a contextualized Chatter feed. This is the real opportunity area – filtering the deluge of data and serving it up in a highly refined and contextualized manner. We can see some of the opportunities around this with the suggested contacts feature in Chatter which uses analytics to suggest contacts with relevant interest areas to connect with. I would imagine that over time we’ll see this sort of semantic functionality rolled out across Chatter so that pages on certain topics are automatically created on the fly.

This is the key challenge and opportunity for Chatter. While it currently has great uptake, my assessment from talking to organization who use Chatter is that it’s still only reaching a small percentage of users. There are, according to Benioff, 150000 active Chatter networks globally – we need to see those networks move deeper and deeper into the organizations they touch. The key for salesforce is to create functionality that allows the product to remain compelling even when it is producing a veritable firehouse of information. To do so they’re going to need to weave a fabric of analytics and semantics into the platform – my feeling is they’re already making moves to do so and Chatter will progressively increase filtration as quantity increases.

Here’s a video Robert Scoble made about Chatter Messenger soon after it was announced last year.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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