I've always liked the approach Dimdim took in offering web conferencing services. The pillars of the business model, which I profiled last year, were lean operations, smart viral marketing and technology partnerships with larger companies like Novell and Nortel CVAS. The technology they built emphasized ease of use, providing an audio/video/web conferencing experience through the browser, allowing information workers access to a web meeting regardless of the device or operating system they were using. So it was not surprising when software vendors looking for conferencing capabilities started sniffing around Dimdim as an acquisition target. It was even less surprising when Salesforce.com picked up the company for $31 million yesterday.
For Salesforce, this was a straight technology acquisition, as evidenced by the seemingly near total shutdown of Dimdim's website: Monthly accounts cease on March 15 and annual accounts will be allowed to complete their term but will not be able to renew. While the rapid sunsetting of the Dimdim brand probably won't make Salesforce any friends in the Dimdim user base — reportedly north of 5 million — it should provide some interesting new services for Salesforce CRM and Force.com customers. Why? Dimdim's real-time communications technology fleshes out the collaboration story Salesforce began with its social offering, Chatter, last year. This blending of tools will boost the collaborative power of some key Chatter features:
- Profiles. On its own, this social tool is the foundation for information sharing and expertise location in an organization. Users can post information about themselves and their job and associate their profile with certain shared information in a searchable format. With added conferencing capabilities, employees can locate an individual and start a meeting with them, allowing the parties to communicate and jointly view data in real time.
- Groups. Salesforce's turn on team workspaces allows employees to share information and work together in a central location. Unlike a team space in SharePoint or Lotus Quickr, though, there was no integration with any tools that would allow for synchronous interaction. With the inclusion of Dimdim's conferencing tools, information workers can now communicate within the context of the team space, allowing for real-time collaboration within a workflow.
- File sharing. This is a recent addition to the Chatter offering, but an interesting one because it allows for content sharing within their activity stream. Of course, the real potential of this will be unlocked when the option to start a web meeting is included with that shared document, allowing a worker to start a live discussion with the individual who posted the content.
For CRM customers, the possibilities are exciting. Customer support personel will be able to search profiles to find the appropriate engineer to help with a customer issue and immediately pull them into a meeting. A marketing team can set up a "group" that leverages client data from the CRM system and hold real-time meetings to set the customer communication strategy and tactics. Salespeople can post about the trouble they are having closing a deal and a manager or colleague can respond, launching a meeting from that event to discuss potential solutions. For Content & Collaboration (C&C) professionals, this represents a realization of contextual collaboration — moving the tools of collaboration into an information worker's established workflow. This spurs collaboration software adoption and makes the business process more collaborative. But this vision doesn't stop with CRM. Remember, Chatter is available as part of a Force.com license.
When Salesforce announced that they were allowing developers the option of turning on Chatter within applications built on Force.com, they took a step toward creating a development platform that was powered by social technologies. With the expected inclusion of Dimdim's technology in Chatter, they will go further, creating a well-rounded collaboration service as the foundation of their development platform. And this opens the door for a partnership between the application development and C&C folks in the business. Why? App dev professionals looking for platform-as-a-service (PaaS) to develop internal applications (like the types Salesforce marks as its top uses cases) will now have the option of choosing one that natively includes collaboration tools. This means a decision to use Force.com can inform the collaboration initiatives C&C pros are developing.
Going forward, how the integration of Dimdim into the Chatter story bears watching for many groups within a business: customer service, sales, marketing, C&C pros, and app dev. The potential of Salesforce's offering is a truly collaborative set of business processes with a range of internal applications possessing native real-time and asynchronous collaboration technology.