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private facebook pageAs quick as emails can be for communicating information, I still long for something more efficient with less clutter, especially when it comes to long threads of email correspondence. In looking for something different, I stumbled upon Salesforce’s Chatter.com. Chatter is not a new service, but if your company or organization doesn’t know about, it could be a useful alternative to traditional email and forum threads.

In a nutshell, Chatter is an online, desktop, and mobile collaboration service that works similar to Facebook. You and your co-workers and team can post messages, files, and links to one another without having to compose a new email each time, or send copious replies – it’s like your own company private Facebook page.

Setting Up A Chatter Account

In order to set up a Chatter account, you and your company (or organization) must register with an email address that includes the company’s email domain. You can’t use say a dot.yahoo.com or dot.gmail.com. The user who registers the company’s account becomes the moderator by default.

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The moderator can assign moderator privileges to other members, change the company name on the account, deactivate users, and delete inappropriate posts. Each member of a Chatter group must also use their company’s supported email domain to be a part of the group.

Chatter Features

The features of Chatter are similar to Facebook’s timeline. Group members can type messages in the “What are you working on?” text field, as well as attach files and URL links.

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Groups members will automatically see each other’s posts, but to keep the timeline, or chatter feed, from becoming a long streaming list of messages, group members can distinguish messages by adding a hashtag to a word which links to all posts and comments on that topic.

So if a post refers to a project – for example “#summermarketing” – that your team is working on, all the posts that feature that same identified topic will get filtered and categorized in a single thread separate from other messages. Topical threads can be saved to your Chatter profile page for reviewing and tracking updates.

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Similarly to Twitter you can use the @ sign in front of someone’s name to alert (mention) them to a particular post. When a member’s name is mentioned in a post, he or she will also be notified by email. Also, clicking on that person’s mention in a post links you to that person’s profile.

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Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a way to edit messages after they are posted. You must delete and start over. However, it’s very useful that posts can be bookmarked and reviewed by clicking the Bookmarks folder in the sidebar of Chatter. Other folders for personal messages, people, and files are also available.

Chatter Groups

Another useful feature for Chatter is Groups. Chatter members can create Groups to collaborate with specific members, on specific projects and ideas. Groups are separate from the main Chatter feed, but they contain the same features for posting messages, files, and URLs.

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Groups can be Public, where all members can see the group’s posts, comments, and files, but only members of the group can add content to the group’s feed; Private, in which only members of the group can see the content; and Allow Customers, where the Group’s manager(s) can invite customers who are outside the company’s email domain to join the group.

Desktop & Mobile Clients

Chatter also includes cross platform desktop and mobile clients, which allows you to automatically add and receive messages on your feed, as well as drag and drop files from your desktop.

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Chatter is also available for free for Android phones and tablets (OS 2.1 or higher), iPads (iOS 5.0 or higher), iPhones and iPod Touches (iOS 4.0 or higher) and BlackBerry devices (OS 5 or higher.)

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Chatter is used by thousands of companies, organizations, and groups, including Wells Fargo Bank, NBC Universal, Avon, Comcast, and Pandora. The basic services are free, but the Chatter Plus includes lots more features. While the Chatter and other Salesforce services are geared toward large companies and organizations, it seems to me that smaller companies and groups could benefit from the service too. Chatter reminds me also of Google’s now defunct Buzz, which I think could have helped users depend less on cluttered email boxes if they had learned how to use it properly.

If you already use Chatter, let us know what you think of it in the comments below. Do you think creating something like a private Facebook page is an efficient replacement to company email, or an organizational alternative to Facebook or Google+?

  1. Carl Henderson
    July 3, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Thank you for sharing this fantastic review of Chatter!

  2. Ben
    July 3, 2012 at 5:47 am

    Definitely much better than email within an organization.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      July 3, 2012 at 6:20 am

      I agree, Ben.

  3. Chris Hoffman
    July 3, 2012 at 3:07 am

    Hmm -- reminds me of Yammer, which I use elsewhere.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      July 3, 2012 at 6:20 am

      Hmm, okay, I need to check that out. I wonder if Chatter or Yammer would be useful to the MakeUseOf staff?

      • Chris Hoffman
        July 3, 2012 at 9:20 pm

        I don't know about that. Our mailing lists take the place of such a tool, really.

        • Vinny Panico
          July 3, 2012 at 10:06 pm

          I really disagree with that. While it often take the place of such a tool in many organizations, it really shouldn't. E-mail is outstanding in certain applications, but when there are more than a few people involved it becomes difficult to manage.

        • Chris Hoffman
          July 3, 2012 at 11:45 pm

          Well, I'm speaking for what goes on here at MakeUseOf internally. Other organizations may want to consider one of these other tools.

          The mailing lists here are so much a part of our culture that I would bet, if a Yammer or Chatter network was set up, mailing lists would continue to be used. Then I'd have to check two places!

        • Bakari Chavanu
          July 4, 2012 at 1:45 am

          Chris, I think there could be a communication breakdown when members or staff have use more than one communication tool, but sometimes I think our mailing list can get somewhat difficult or time consuming to manage, in that very important emails get mixed in with lots of casual cross talk. Both forms of communications are important, but I wish there were a way to filter out emails upfront so that Birthday announcements, get separated from say important Editors' email.

          Chatter could be useful in this regards, but it depends on how management organizes it–using tags, etc.

  4. Pablo
    July 3, 2012 at 2:56 am

    I think that Facebook private groups has the same functions

    • Bakari Chavanu
      July 3, 2012 at 6:19 am

      Yeah Pablo, I wasn't sure about that, because I stop using Facebook years ago. Thanks for sharing that.

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