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Socialcast By VMware is hoping to ignite a revolution in product launches by offering fully functional free versions of its enterprise social networks for up to 50 users.

A New Way to Go to Market

Chuck Dietrich, VP of VMware Apps, said in a phone interview that today’s introduction of free enterprise social networks represents a “change in going to market,” both for his company and the IT industry in general. He went on to say,

It’s very rare for a company to provide the full suite of a product for free to a set number of users. Traditionally companies provide a free version of a scaled-back product. The problem is this leaves a bad taste or does not deliver the full experience.”

Dietrich cited Google’s success with providing fully functional, free enterprise versions of Google Apps as an example of how the strategy can benefit both a vendor and its customers. “Google is now giving Microsoft a run for its money,” he said. “It’s an aggressive way to get the entire market to understand the value of enterprise social."

According to Dietrich, the free version of Socialcast By VMware is delivered in a “very secure and controllable” manner. “Management can control who gets to look at confidential documents or get in conversations around those documents,” he explained. "You can control access to other enterprise social applications, like Salesforce.com.”

While the first 50 users of a client can have free access to the full Socialcast By VMware product, companies will have to pay to extend it to any additional users. “We’re giving them everything and letting the applications and user success drive (purchases for more users),” said Dietrich.

Providing a Framework

Just as consumer social networks provide an “underlying communication and collaboration framework” in the consumer world, where users can do things like share photos and videos or discuss how they spent their weekends, Dietrich said enterprise social networks provide the same type of framework for businesses. 

“Right now, corporate information is in silos and email is a relatively inefficient way to communicate,” said Dietrich. “The context is lost. It’s difficult to track who has the answer to a problem in an organization. And if you want to create an informal work group for a project, you need to build web pages and wikis.”

In contrast, Dietrich said enterprise social networks allow users to have conversations “in context” within an activity stream based around a specific document.

You can ask a question in an activity stream and make sure it gets to the people who might know the answer. Every user has an ID and an algorithm knows what they’re working on. It’s an underlying network that connects people to people, apps to apps, and people to apps.”

VMware purchased Socialcast in June 2011, and at the time CMSWire said the virtualization vendor was “making the right move” in adding a visible and successful tool such as Socialcast to its roster. However, CMSWire also cautioned that VMware would have to find the “magic mix of ingredients” to make the strategy of expanding its functionality work.

Free full-fledged access, even to a limited number of users, is a bold ingredient. It will be interesting to see whether that boldness is just the spice enterprise social technology needs to get a jump-start in the market, or if it will wind up burning the chef.