Salesforce.com announced today that the free Chatter.com software-as-a-service will be generally available January 31. Chatter.com makes the core features of Salesforce.com's enterprise social software offering Chatter available for free. Chatter.com users will have nearly all the features that paid Salesforce.com users have, with the exception of reporting dashboards and access to the AppExchange marketplace. A few new features are being rolled out to all Chatter users as well.
Twitter-style @replies and trending topics and Facebook-style "likes" are all being added to both Chatter.com and regular Chatter users.
Like Yammer company accounts, Chatter.com company accounts can be created by anyone with an e-mail address from a particular company. That user can then invite other users to the company Chatter.com account. Unlike Yammer, user access can be moderated without paying for a premium account. The first user becomes the moderator, and can create other moderators. If a company discovers that employees have created a Chatter.com account without management and IT approval, Salesforce.com will add managers as moderators free of charge.
Update: Yammer did not respond to our request for clarification regarding its access control policy yesterday, but Yammer Director of Communications DeeAnna McPherson has contacted us with a correction:
Any user (it doesn't have to be a moderator) can suspend another user. When that happens, an email is sent to the suspended user's email address asking them to re-confirm their account. If they no longer have email access, they no longer have Yammer access. In the premium version, Yammer can be synced with Active Directory to automate the process of removing former employees.
We make it easy to police the free accounts by surfacing employees whose company email addresses are bouncing.
One drawback to Chatter.com is that all users must have an e-mail address with the company's domain name. Unlike Huddle, another enterprise collaboration SaaS with freemium accounts, there is currently no way to add an external collaborator without first giving them a company e-mail account.
As a side note, Salesforce.com's relationship with will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas continues to flourish. Salesforce.com will air a commercial for Chatter.com starring animated caricatures of The Black Eyed Peas during the Super Bowl. The ads will bookend the half-time show, which will feature a live performance by The Black Eyed Peas. will.i.am seems to have quite a fondness for tech companies - earlier this week Intel announced that will.i.am will be its new director of creative innovation.
For some, Super Bowl adds with companies with "dotcom" in the name brings back uncomfortable memories of the dotcom boom and bust.
Chatter was released to all Salesforce.com users last year, and the company calls it its most successful product launch to date. Dell deployed Chatter to over 100,000 users. Other customers with over 5,000 include Bank of America and Deloitte.