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Cisco's Collaboration Platform: Facebook for Business?

Ron Ricci, Sheila Jordan, Sue Bostrom, Jim Grubb
photograph by Nigel Parry

Not content with bringing socialism to its boardroom, Flip cams to the family room, and comedic product placements to the nation's TV screens, Cisco has just unveiled a set of Web-based communication products that could put the San Jose company into direct competition with both Google and Microsoft. Its entry into two new markets—hosted email and enterprise social software—is, says Cisco, part of a push to make business more people-centric than document-centric.

This move signals a major shift for a company that is best known as the Internet's plumber (the Internet's backbone if you prefer). Along with a cloud-based mail system, WebEx Mail, the company is introducing a social video system, called Cisco Show and Share. According to the PR blurb, it "helps organizations create and manage highly secure video communities to share ideas and expertise, optimize global video collaboration, and personalize the connection between customers, employees and students with user-generated content."

Also on its way is the Cisco Enterprise Collaboration Platform, a cross between a corporate directory with social networking capabilities. (Status update: John Chambers is in the Cisco canteen and wondering whether he should go for mustard or mayo on his sandwich before buying Facebook.)

FlipWhat is interesting, however, is the way in which Cisco is repositioning itself. Having spent a fair amount of money on both hardware and software to make its systems even more accessible, it's now maneuvering daintily onto the turf normally patrolled by Google, as its new products will compete with Google's OS, apps, and Wave. But rather than aiming its products at the masses, the object in Cisco's crosshairs is undeniably the market currently enjoying Microsoft's business tools.

But the gap between enterprise and consumer is getting smaller by the day. Cisco recently bought the makers of the Flip Video camera, and is launching a multi-million dollar marketing campaign this week that uses both celebrities and "civilians" (as one infamous actress-turned-model likes to describe the un-famous) to show the world just how much fun the handheld camcorders are.