An increasing need for semantics

This article appears in the issue May 2011, [Volume 20, Issue 5]
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Salesforce.com, the cloud enterprise service, has moved even farther from its original business of contact and sales force management. In January 2011, Salesforce.com acquired the Web conferencing service provider Dimdim. Dimdim provided a free Web conferencing service. Users could share  desktops, show slides, collaborate, chat, talk and broadcast via webcam.

In a matter of seconds, a user could sign up for a Dimdim account and meet using "just a browser." The Dimdim approach was different from that of Cisco's Webex. To participate in a Webex meeting requires downloading and installing software on my machine. With Dimdim, I did not have to do much more than fill in some Web forms and perform other routine housekeeping.

The enterprise technology of Dimdim "snaps in" the Salesforce.com cloud. In addition, the enterprise version of Dimdim supports a number of third-party cloud-based applications, including Salesforce.com competitors' SugarCRM and Zimbra, an open source e-mail server. Dimdim also offers an open source version of its technology.

When I look at this acquisition in the context of Google's support for video within Google documents, I know a shift in enterprise content has occurred. Many organizations may not yet be immersed in compound documents, rich media and content that contains multiple objects in radically different formats. Going forward, the very idea of content in an organization will be different from what it was a year or two ago.

The pace of change

In my recent travels, I've heard a range of opinions about the enterprise, mobile devices and the new challenges rich media present. Semantic technology may be an increasingly important contributor to solving 2011's information challenges. Much of the new content is brief and often context-free.

In London in December, I heard a detailed discussion about Enterprise 2.0, in which an expert seemed to say the current work environment would change more rapidly than at any previous time since the Industrial Revolution. Instead of desktop and notebook computers, workers would use devices like the iPad and smart phones. Face-to-face meetings would still be necessary, but the social interaction would be provided by various types of real-time and collaborative interaction.  Salesforce.com has also embraced collaborative and social functions.

After hiring Steve Gillmor, a former journalist closely associated with the phrase "the attention economy," Salesforce.com has added features and services that provide to an enterprise customer tweets, collaborative services (Dimdim), and encouraged Salesforce.com third-party developers to build apps that provide additional functionality to the "Chatter" platform.

One question that resonated with me was, "What and how will a person search content created in a cloud-based, collaborative enterprise solution?" The content created within those multi-object systems can be captured. Salesforce.com's multitenant technology keeps each corporate client's information and activities in what amounts to a separate secure server. The corporate client's individual authorized users have discrete accounts within the virtual server. Even third-party or customized applications built specifically for an enterprise customer run within that discrete space. The benefit of the Salesforce.com platform is that the data are stored, backed up and available.

In my tests of the Salesforce.com search system, I was able to locate documents by key word, entity or a user- or curator-assigned tag. However, when I looked at the system, Salesforce.com had not implemented the social messaging functions, nor had it purchased a video conferencing service that allows users to "see" documents and content.

One of the challenges for Salesforce.com, Cisco Webex and Google will be providing users with ways to find information in those "compound" or "hybrid" cloud services. The technology for basic document search may not be perfect, but it works reasonably well. "Compound" content or information created on the fly is a different story.

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