At last week's Convergence event in New Orleans, Microsoft announced what it calls its updated roadmap for Yammer integration with Office 365. Concurrently, Jared Spataro, Senior Director of the Microsoft Office Division, posted the details on the SharePoint Blog.
While there were a couple of very small nuggets of what I consider to be useful information, Microsoft’s good intentions don’t seem to appease the concerns of many customers, and Microsoft’s roadmap continues to point toward a split personality for SharePoint social—something that can’t help Microsoft’s heretofore shining promise of social in SharePoint 2013.
A short time ago, I was really excited about what Microsoft had done with social in SharePoint 2013. The user experience was discoverable and reasonably rich; the micro-blogging capability was what a lot of my customers were looking for; the inclusion of little features like hash tags and @mentions was sweet; I loved the concept of site and document follows, as opposed to old-school alerts; and community sites were, at least, a big step forward from previous versions of SharePoint.
Microsoft had hit at least the 80/20 solution for most of my customers. Finally there would be a good answer for enterprise social that integrated with SharePoint.
Then Yammer came along. I actually like Yammer a lot, for many of the reasons Microsoft bought it: services architecture, innovative approach, talented team, user-friendliness, and a significant (and otherwise competitive) customer base.
In the launch blog entry, Spataro answers Question Number 1 (“"What should I use for social? Yammer or the SharePoint newsfeed?" ) by saying, “Go Yammer!” There’s no doubt that Microsoft is “all in” to Yammer. And Microsoft is making it easier for customers to “Go Yammer” with the option of “replacing” the SharePoint newsfeed with Yammer this summer.
But honestly, I’m having trouble imagining how this “integration option” is any different than changing the SuiteBarBrandingElementHTML property of a web application with an HTML snippet like Newsfeed (which I’ve not tested by the way, so don’t try it at home). It sounds to me like this is just a “go talk in Yammer” version of “integration.” But, whatever it is, it’s a step toward deeper integration. I’m okay with a cosmetic change, even if that’s all it is.
This summer will also introduce an app that will embed Yammer conversations within a site. Now this strikes me as cool—perhaps the most useful, concrete, and cool part of the roadmap. When a team needs to connect and converse, this might be a great option. If I interpret this correctly, Yammer is really “replacing” the need for discussions (both 2010 discussion boards and 2013 community features) within a team site.
In the autumn, authentication and user interfaces will begin to merge, and Office Web Apps will be integrated to allow editing of and collaboration around documents within Yammer. The latter capability had been previously announced and, as I recall, it was slated for earlier release. So my impression, in any event, is that this feature is good, although it has slipped a bit.
So far, decent-to-good news! So why do I feel queasy about the future of social for SharePoint—at least for the next year or two? Why do one plus one equal perhaps less than one?
Because the full impact of the changes aren't clear, and we’re 90-120 days from launch.
For example, it is unclear what the user experience will be after Yammer’s newsfeed has replaced SharePoint’s. Is it just a navigation link change, this summer? If so, how will users access functionality that SharePoint social provides that Yammer does not? Will they still be able to get to the SharePoint newsfeed from their My Site (just another click or two, not the end of the world)? Or will Office 365 SharePoint social features get “turned off” at the same time as the Suite Bar link points to Yammer?
More importantly, I don’t understand how life will be for anyone with more than a single tenancy in Office 365. In the launch blog post, Spataro gives a token nod to the reality that many customers have on-premises installations. He promises future releases of “the server” but, notably, the words “social features of the server” weren't used.
That makes me wonder whether on-premises social has a future and is getting any “love” from Microsoft. I seriously doubt there are plans to spin off an on-premises Yammer service, though I’d like to be proven wrong.
More problematic for me is that I don’t know what to expect for users who want to follow people, sites, and documents—the promise of social in SharePoint 2013—across multiple farms (currently, a gap in the functionality of the on-premises product) and particularly across hybrid scenarios of on-prem and Office 365, which doesn’t get even a wink, let alone a nod, in Spataro’s post.
My customers, and the broader SharePoint community, don’t like uncertainty, or solutions to scenarios being retracted. I’d like Microsoft to address, more directly, the scenarios that SharePoint social was designed to solve, and whether, how, and when Yammer will solve them: Following documents. Following multiple team sites. Individual (My Site) microblogging, and following employees. Hash tag integration with the metadata service and search. @mention integration with people search. How and when all of this will work across farms and, importantly, across hybrid scenarios.
All the capabilities of SharePoint 2013 are still there, as good as they ever were. Yammer is as intriguing and valuable as ever. Together the companies should be greater than the sum of the parts. But the vision and roadmap have become confusing.
I think and hope that the problems have less to do with the technology itself and more to do with messaging, and aligning Microsoft’s visions and roadmap decisions with the scenarios that customers are trying to address. But, whatever the problems, the discussions I’m hearing are clear: People don’t like the uncertainty. And the uncertainty makes them doubt what might very well be otherwise valuable technology and solutions.