Community - the product that isn't, yet

  • 16-Aug-2012

Earlier this week, noted SaaS vendor Salesforce announced a new offering called "Community," which appears to try to compete with Jive and others to provide external customer community services. As a closely watched company considered by many a key "disrupter" within the enterprise IT landscape, anything Salesforce announces is sure to garner a lot of attention.

Unfortunately, you can't actually use Community today. Or even try it. Right now they're providing journalists a short demo of something planned for piloting later this year and general availability in.... H2/2013 . Pricing and packaging remain unknown. If Microsoft made such an announcement, they would be pilloried, but in my experience, analysts and other pundits tend to give Salesforce a pass.

The reality is that Salesforce has underwhelmed in its recent bespoke software development. The company has struggled with both Chatter (which we evaluate in our Collaboration and Social Software stream) and (which we evaluate in our Web Content & Experience Management stream), in some cases referencing features that exist on the roadmap, but not in the documentation.

The typical Salesforce answer is that their "rapid development cycles" will bridge all shortcomings. There's a sliver of truth to this, but only a sliver. Succeeding in the enterprise space requires more than just disruption, but also execution. Salesforce is good at executing press releases.

To be sure, Salesforce offers an excellent hosted CRM platform for small- to mid-sized businesses, along with a very mature (if awkwardly quite upscale) social media monitoring platform that they acquired in Radian6. But customer-facing applications are a very different animal, and Salesforce has struggled here in the past. Test early versions of Community -- or any other product -- very carefully before signing on.