Thursday, September 8, 2011

Is Salesforce Chatter, and the likes, a ‘False social’?

Most people, including me, would completely agree with Salesforce's CEO Marc Benioff and his statement around private cloud is a false cloud. The concept of private cloud is really an oxymoron, unless the scope of the private cloud is large enough, so that resource sharing and economy-of-scale can kick in.

Similar to Cloud computing, the value and power of Social networks is highly dependent on their size. Actually, as the Metcalfe’s law states, it is even much more important for networks.

Social network is fueled by the number of its active participants

When this emerging social energy is looking to also power businesses, it hits the data security wall. And thus the realization is done through so-called ‘private social networks’ that are providing access only to people that work for the same company.

As an example, Salesforce Chatter as well as Jive, Yammer, SocialCast, SocialText are providing a ‘private social network’ infrastructure for company's employees. They can have limited success with very large companies that manage to build a vibrant network.

To illustrate the fundamental problem of ‘private social network’ let’s use the telephony systems.

Imagine that you could freely call anyone in your company, but…guess what, for calling partners and customers you would need a completely different system, devices and network. Same analogy can also be made to email systems, and Internet usage as a whole. Would it be an acceptable solution?

The main reason for having ‘private social networks’ is data security. It is also a major concern for telephony system, emails and Internet. But they have all managed to overcome it without significantly compromising over the openness of the network and thus its value and efficiency.

The main weaknesses of private social networks

1. Restricted network size limits the potential value. Very large companies can benefit from an improved internal communication, but will find it hard to communicate with external partners and customers. For smaller companies where external communication is playing a major part, private social network is not economic.

2. Network building effort is done repeatedly. Private networks are isolated, thus they need to start the enormous effort of building a network from scratch again and again for every company.

3. External partners and customers are treated as guests. It keeps guests as second-level citizens of the network, missing a place to get access to all of their activity. It is like having a different inbox/outbox and message types for each company they deal with.

So private social network,
o Is not efficient
o Is not democratic
o Is not economical
o Is not environmental

Private social network can still be a good starting point for large companies to experience social networking methods for communicating and collaborating.

True 'business-oriented social networks' are coming up…

In the spirit of the 'social power and the coming corporate revolution' by David Kirkpatrick, I went back to the French revolution. True 'business-oriented social networks' should strive for Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité...or in English, support the freedom to associate and act with any member of the network, while ensuring equal rights to all members. This is actually the foundation of all 'public social networks'. 

Few business-oriented principles should be added to the open foundation:
o Business context 
o Company notion 
o Enterprise grade security and privacy - leverage proven concepts from the well-established networks e.g. Telephony and Internet.

In an interview that Parker Harris co-founder gave to R “Ray“ Wang recently, he seems to also agree that collaboration and relationships should be ‘fluid relationship’ as he called it, and I am quoting "All of the hand offs today are coarse but in the future, this will feel like a fluid relationship. It won't feel like you are shifting gears between companies."

So we can expect that one of the next versions of Salesforce Chatter or different vendor will be a true social network…

Do you agree?

What's your opinion?


  1. Very Interesting. You make some valid points. However, I think there is a problem with the Phone/Email argument because today everyone uses the same phone and email protocols. So, the efficiency of a public social network only comes into play if everyone is using the same network (or a network that supports some open standard for integration between network, such as open social). Otherwise you're back to the same problem of having to communicate with different customers/suppliers/partners on different networks, except if you are large enough that you can force them to use your network , in which case it doesn't matter if is fully or just partially open.

  2. I agree. That was the point I tried to convey. Same as in the established networks (Phone/Email), the efficiency of a social network will be optimal only when everyone will virtually share the same network, through an agreed set of standards. Again, like in telephony, many providers will be able participate, and it should offer ways to strictly control data exposure.

    By the way, I believe that the Facebook backed ‘open graph protocol’ has a better chance to win the standards battle over open social.