Salesforce users respond to Chatter private beta's new Chatter collaboration tool is just coming online, but some users already question its usefulness.

SAN FRANCISCO --'s new "Facebook for the enterprise" service, called Chatter, is now available to one hundred companies including Reed Exhibitions, Schumacher Group, TransUnion and the American Red Cross, as part of a private beta.

Chatter is a Web-based collaboration tool that looks and feels exactly like Facebook -- with news feeds, profiles, status updates and groups. But instead of finding out what your college roommate had for lunch, users can see what colleagues are working on in real time and share documents.

The Bay Area Chapter of the American Red Cross plans to use Chatter for the part of its organization that runs shelters.

"People can see what's in them, where the food is and what needs to be refreshed," said Harold Brooks, CEO of the Bay Area Chapter. "In an emergency, we need this kind of information fast."

Not everybody at the chapter will be able to use it, however, as they aren't all on the Salesforce platform, he said.

Other customers had similar concerns.

"It's just another place that I have to look for information," said Kerry Philp, senior marketing manager at Schwab Charitable. "Most of our employees are not on Salesforce so we'll still have to email." CEO Marc Benioff said Chatter will be free to all users at companies with a Salesforce subscription, but those without a license to the platform will only be able to use it in read-only mode -- in other words, they will be "lurkers" in Facebook terms.

Representatives from Schumacher Group, Motorola and Vetrazzo joined Benioff on stage at the press conference to tout the benefits of the product. They seemed most excited about the ability to share critical information, fast, and on mobile devices such as Blackberrys and iPhones.

"Instead of digging through email and file systems and portals, the information I really need is pushed directly to me," said Doug Menefee, CIO of Schumacher Group.

Chatter will compete with Microsoft Office, SharePoint and Exchange and IBM's Lotus Domino, as well as a host of document management products that are beefing up their real-time collaboration features. Chatter is expected to be available to all Salesforce customers by mid-year for $50 per user per month, on top of the subscription price.

Jo Maitland is the Executive Editor at Contact her at [email protected].

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