Gartner hosted a “Social Software Smackdown” panel at its Catalyst Conference last month. After talking with its host, analyst Larry Cannell, it’s clear that the participants from Microsoft/Yammer, Salesforce/Chatter and Box don’t feel that they’re in a turf war, at least just yet.

That's true in spite of the fact that Gartner’s most recent Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace noted there’s little difference in the products these companies provide.

 “We are in the early stages of this market with a tremendous upside for enterprises and workers,” Cannell wrote in his takeaway notes.

Next Steps in the Journey


The future in this space, it seems, is about much more than taking what’s on the web and moving it to the cloud. Instead, it’s about providing tools that facilitate the way people work. This was the consensus among panelists Steve Gillmor of Salesforce, Adam Pisoni of Microsoft and Chris Yeh of Box.  

Gillmor said that engagement around files in Salesforce’s enterprise file sync and share solution has risen at a scale of two to three times with the introduction of Chatter. Workers are “talking” about things like what files are important, what content is hot and so on. The real value of Salesforce’s social software, it seems, is engagement around content.  

Pisoni speculates that in the future social may not be as a destination or a category of its own, but a part of something larger. Given that Yammer already comes as part of some Office 365 editions, the future may be coming sooner rather than later.

But social isn’t just about pushing productivity applications skyward. The move to the cloud is just “a bump in road” compared to what’s ahead, said Pisoni.

Changes in Culture

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In the next decade (Gillmor thinks it will happen sooner), social might fuel the gathering of collective intelligence, in which communication and collaboration are open — and the skills and talent of people are brought together in ways that we haven’t seen before, added Pisoni.

Yet it’s not technology that will be the driving force: Workplace culture will demand the changes. Yeh said that Box talked about building a social offering at one time but decided against it, reasoning that social would fold-in and slip away as its own category.

It’s also interesting to note that the social of tomorrow doesn’t need to look anything like the consumer products we use today, according to Yeh. Chatter doesn’t need to be Facebook sitting on top of Salesforce.


Users invent what we think is software, said Gillmor. He cites Twitter as an example: Consider the way the @ symbol is used. Users — not Twitter — innovated that.

“User expectations are pushing us to add features faster and to adapt,” noted Cannell.

And it seems that users feel strongly that various social platforms share information between them as well.

Interoperability Unlikely for Now

But they’re doing that only to the extent that they absolutely must, said Gillmor. Not a single panelist called for a unified standard for interoperability.

 “Social communication is going through such radical transformation right now,” said Pisoni. It doesn’t make sense to develop a unified standard until it settles.

For now, users are still discovering and exploring how social can be integrated into their work, agreed the panelists.

In the past, IT decided what solutions would be provided and it created and enforced rules around it.

But no more.

Today employees bring applications and tools into the workplace. It takes time for IT to even realize what they are, that they are there, and that groups have adopted them.

And IT doesn’t always have much say as to what they are.

Even a company that’s relatively small, like Box, can’t keep it to a single solution. Yeh said that at his company engineering uses Jive, Sales uses Chatter and still other groups use Yammer.

Collaboration Solutions: Users’ Choice Until Blocked


As an aside, it’s interesting to note that, according to Yeh, Box — which used to sell from the grass roots up — now has a “Dropbox problem,” meaning that too many workers are adopting it without IT’s consent. As a result, it’s being shut down at the firewall, leaving Box no choice but to call directly on Corporate IT to win business. Box’s sales approach has become less bottom-up over the years. In fact, it’s beginning to look a lot like Oracle’s, according to Yeh.

And while that might seem to be a good thing because it’s IT that pays Box’s bill, it may open a door for Dropbox, which is also often blocked at the firewall. With 300 million people using Dropbox as consumers, the rate of user adoption in the enterprise is almost guaranteed. So once IT accepts Dropbox for Business as an enterprise-grade solution, its sales may be easy slam dunks.

But viral adoption may not be enough, said Pisoni, who as a Yammer co-founder, is partly responsible for orchestrating the Yammerization of the Enterprise trend via a freemium model. He explains that the cultural changes needed for social to succeed also require executive support.

And that’s where solutions from large vendors may have an edge. As it becomes part of Office 365, Yammer is practically blessed by the Enterprise from the get go. Ditto for Chatter and Salesforce.

Though there was little mention of social leader Jive, which bills itself as the communication and collaboration solution for mobile business, in our conversation Cannell noted that it is also a contender.

As one of the few remaining independent Enterprise Social leaders in the market, Jive may be in a position to innovate quicker, put the user at the center and play across a wider field. It will be interesting to see if a smart, innovative solution provider can stand on its own and thrive in a world that’s increasingly being taken over by giants.

So how cutthroat was the panel that Cannell billed as a “smackdown”? It’s more like a lovefest, said Gillmor.