The industry has been talking about “The Facebook Imperative” and a lot of people have offered their opinions on the idea. The question that’s been on my mind about it is simple: why “imperative?” Is it too strong of word? Is it hyperbole? Or is it just right?
Let’s review some ancient history, starting with the day I showed up at Kenyon College for my first day of freshman year. It was 1987. I lived in a dorm, on a hall with 25 other students. Only three of us brought computers. There were no network connections, wireless didn’t exist and most students had their first experience word processing using WordPerfect on a green screen terminal attached to a mainframe.
Fast-forward to today. Students are glued to mobile devices, and breakthrough products like the Apple iPhone and soon iPad are pushing laptops into a secondary role as computing devices. Networks and wireless are pervasive. They have no memory of life without instant messaging, email or on-demand video. They don’t remember Alta Vista or Pets.com and they have never used a mainframe. In short, they have vastly different expectations about connected technology. More importantly, they have vastly different skills. “Computer literacy” isn’t a buzzword any more—it just is. This has been true for years and true on a global scale.
This global pool of talent has put their skills to some amazing starts. Think about Gmail and YouTube, ancient in terms of killer cloud apps but game changing. Think about Digg and Reddit, sites that have changed the way many people discover and consume news and other content. Think about Tiny Chat and UStream, sites that take personal broadcasting to the next level. And then think about Facebook.
Facebook is such a stellar example not because it allows people to post their relationship status to their friends and share pictures. Facebook, great app that it is, is also an awesome demonstration of what an application could be. Facebook has shown how you can engage a user community and harness the power of their full attention. Facebook sets a new bar for the way users interact with each other and with apps.
“The Facebook Imperative” is a strong title and it’s a great way of asking an important question. What will happen when this global pool of talent turns their attention away from things like Farmville and Mafia Wars, and starts building similarly addictive applications for the enterprise, in areas like human capital management and order to cash processes? Is enterprise software as we know it ready for this? Or will the existing players work to slow the pace of innovation until some upstart can break through and show everyone a better way?
The imperative is to recognize and embrace and drive this change at all levels – whether you work at a leading edge cloud computing company like I do or in a small startup trying to take on big, legacy competitors. Or maybe you work at one of those legacy competitors and you want to be sure that some upstart doesn’t eat your lunch. Facebook has proven that social, collaborative, aware apps work and now the rest of us can embrace this change or watch as our competitors do.
The real question about change is not if it will happen. Change is inevitable. The important questions are when it will happen and who will lead it. My answer? I believe that the Chatter dev preview, which lets developers actually start building these next-gen applications for enterprise, is proof that it is happening now, and that salesforce.com is one of the leaders. We’re giving developers the tools and technologies to act on the Facebook imperative today.
A huge number of developers are now live with developer preview access to Chatter. If you are one of them, you should do two things. First, participate in the Chatter Dev Zone, interact with other developers and try out the tool at scale and in real time. Create posts. Create an opportunity or follow another one. Second, try out an app in your dev org, something from your main org or maybe a great Force.com Labs app, and turn on Chatter feeds for some objects. You’ll be amazed at how it changes the experience of using the app.
So, back to my original question: is “imperative” the right word? I think you know my answer – a resounding yes – but if you’re on the fence, try it yourself. Talk to other developers trying it at the same time. Put it to the test. You’ll be glad you did.