Marc Benioff needs an enterprise social history lesson


After reading about the pageantry and bluster that marked last week's Dreamforce Conference in San Francisco, I was more than surprised by the idea that invented enterprise social collaboration--or at least brought it to the forefront of the conversation. I'm here to tell you it didn't, and I decided it was time to give Marc Benioff an enterprise social history lesson.

However you choose to define enterprise social software or Enterprise 2.0, the idea has been around for quite some time. In fact, MIT professor and author Andrew McAfee coined the term Enterprise 2.0 back in 2006 in a Sloan Management Review article in which he defined Enterprise 2.0 as bringing web 2.0-style social tools into the enterprise.

Some products existed at that point, but the industry clearly lacked a significant focus. I went to my first Enterprise 2.0 Conference in 2009 in Boston. By that time, the industry was beginning to take shape and by 2010, we started to see the bigger vendors such as Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) and IBM (NYSE: IBM) have a presence at the conference.

Over the last 18 months, we have started to see some consolidation. VMware scooped up Socialcast last year. In May, EMC bought Syncplicity and in June, Microsoft bought Yammer and began integrating it into SharePoint.

Other companies like Newsgator, Box, Jive, Telligent, Socialtext, Moxie, Traction Software and countless others are still out there operating independently and moving the social industry forward, even as the larger companies continue to buy and develop their way into the industry.

Salesforce was actually a bit late to the game, let's face it. It announced Chatter at last year's Dreamforce conference. This year we have Chatter Communities and Chatterbox, the recently announced file sharing and collaboration tool.

Of course, Salesforce has also been busy buying social monitoring tools including Radian 6 and Buddy Media.

But what struck me as I read about Benioff's keynote was the notion that social was new--at least for Benioff. The light might just have gone on for him, but it's been on for a long time in a lot of other buildings. Reports said he called it a coming evolution, rather than something that has building for the past six years, and very likely prior to the point that McAfee gave the notion a name. The fact is that over the last year or so, Salesforce has figured this out, but all public relations rhetoric aside, this is clearly not new and Salesforce didn't discover it.

That said, Salesforce clearly has a role to play. It's tough to ignore a company that attracts somewhere between 70,000 and 90,000 people to its user conference. Benioff in an interview with Michael Arrington, which we covered a couple of weeks ago (and you can see in its entirety) stated that the company is worth $21 billion (with a b), that it is the fifth largest software company in the world and the fastest growing. What's more, he said that this quarter, the company will exceed $3 billion in quarterly revenue for the first time. So when Salesforce turns its considerable attention to something like enterprise social, it's best that the existing players take heed.

My friend and colleague, Michael Krigsman, writing on ZDNet, says Salesforce's entry into the space along with other converging forces, suggests that social is coming of age. He's right of course, but while Salesforce may be contributing to that, it didn't invent it. It's not even clear if it will ever be a major player, especially outside of its own ecosystem.

But when a company with the resources and reach of Salesforce gets behind something, everyone better be listening. Just don't assume that size necessarily correlates to success, or that just because Salesforce sees an opportunity it means it's going to capitalize on it. - Ron