Salesforce.com, whose core business is supplying Internet-based sales and customer relationship management software, introduced the social invitation model, called Chatter Free, Tuesday at Dreamforce, Salesforce.com's annual San Francisco user conference. Chatter Free is available to any worker within a company that licenses Salesforce.com's services. Individual workers do not have to be licensed Salesforce.com users to join the social network.
The new invitation model is similar to what Facebook used in growing to what is today the world's largest online social network. While it's unlikely Chatter Free will eclipse Facebook's half-billion users anytime soon, Salesforce.com is hoping the invitation model will grow the network much faster than limiting access to only the number of people covered in a customer's license.
Chatter Free is part of the full-version of Chatter, which provides more advanced social collaboration tools. People using Chatter Free are limited to basic capabilities, such as setting up profiles, receiving status updates and newsfeeds from colleagues, sharing files and sending invitations. The service is available from an office computer or smartphone.
Along with Chatter Free and Chatter, Salesforce.com offers a premium service called Chatter Plus that offers access to more critical business data, such as accounts, cases and business processes. Unlike Chatter, the premium version is not included with a general Salesforce.com license. Chatter Plus costs an additional $15 per user, per month.
Use of social collaboration tools is growing in the workplace. Such tools are now offered by major enterprise tech vendors as extensions of existing products. Examples include Cisco, with Quad; IBM, with Lotus Live; and Microsoft, with Office 2012 and SharePoint. Salesforce.com isn't taking on these much larger vendors directly. Instead, the company is carving out a niche by offering tools focused mostly on workplace teams handling customer and sales problems. As of the end of October, Salesforce.com had about 87,200 companies using its services.