Salesforce.com Explains Its OpenSocial Strategy

Adam GrossAmong the scrappy Web 2.0 startups taking part in Google’s recent OpenSocial announcement, Salesforce.com kind of stood out.

Salesforce.com already has a proprietary development language and platform, Apex, launched in January. It also has AppExchange, an easy and successful way for third-party developers to create and sell applications that run on top of Salesforce.com.

And then there is Visualforce. It uses HTML, AJAX and Flex programming languages to give customers with an Internet connection the ability to create and share their custom apps throughout their organizations, while enabling mashups with Skype, Google Maps and Google AdSense.

CEO Marc Benioff has said many times that the point of AppExchange was to increase the usage — and usefulness of — the Salesforce.com platform. So InternetNews.com asked Adam Gross, vice president of developer marketing for Salesforce.com, what place these run-anywhere widgets have in its developer ecosystem.

Q: How does OpenSocial fit in with your company’s strategy?

We see this work as following our pattern of more and
more kinds of data being available on the Internet and taking advantage
of more kinds of applications.

Look at mapping and geo data. Once,
you would have go to a particular Web site to use this data, but it
makes a lot of sense to be able to represent your Salesforce.com
data, like contacts and opportunities, geographically. It’s almost a
no-brainer. We see this as similar trend.

On Orkut or another network, my friends and the strength of our
relationships may be defined as similar taste in music or movies. But
maybe I’m working on a deal and want to see the same representation of
people, but expressed as how useful they’ll be in helping me close
this transaction.

It could be a function of how many communications
have there been about this particular deal or which people inside the
company have historically had the most interaction with people
represented on this transaction.

With the common API and a common way of presenting that information,
whether it lives in Salesforce.com or Orkut or another network, you
get portability of those widgets. So, I can pick one off one site and
stick it onto a another like Salesforce.com, and it will work. So you
can take adv of all this innovation that’s happening around the
Internet net and put it to business applications.

Q: I thought taking advantage of third-party innovation was
the point of the AppExchange.

If a developer builds a great graphing widget and wants
to make it available on Salesforce.com, you’ll use the OpenSocial API
technology we created with Google, our implementation of it, and
repackage that up as an AppExchange application. It will be
installable with one click, just like everything else on AppExchange.

You will essentially have to put a new wrapper around it.
They will need to create the directory listing for it and put a new
box around it, but the application itself will work without modification.

You’re free to define within Salesforce.com whatever a friend
means. In a business context, the idea of who a friend is can vary.
We provide a mechanism through our Apex code programming language for
you to define what a friend is. It could be, “had interaction in the
last 30 days,” or “is participating now”; you can define it however you like.

Q: How does OpenSocial fit in with Apex, which is a
proprietary development language?

We’ve implemented OpenSocial in Apex.

Q: Does that mean the widgets for Salesforce.com won’t run
on other sites?

OpenSocial is like giving you the blueprints for a
garage. You can build whatever car you want, but the car has to be
able to fit into this garage. And every garage has to be
standardized.

By creating an implementation, we’ve said, “Because it
meets these standards we’ve agreed to, you should be able to take any
OpenSocial widget and plug it into Salesforce.com. OpenSocial is
the plug — the interface. It doesn’t give you the actual underpinnings
you need to have.

The AppExchange is a way of redistributing anything built on our
platform. Because OpenSocial runs on our platform, you can use
AppExchange to redistribute widgets.

Q: Marc is always talking about Salesforce.com as the
Business Web, as opposed to the consumer Web. It seems like the
distinction is blurring.

The whole idea is that the business Web has borrowed
aggressively from consumer ideas. We’ve always been very upfront
about saying that it’s where we get a lot of our ideas from. I see
this as another example. As the Internet matures, so does what
businesses can do.

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