Yammer - a technology still looking for a solution?

Yammer - a technology still looking for a solution?

The news that Yammer co-founder David Sacks is leaving Microsoft comes as no surprise. It is the nature of the beast that those who create a technology usually leave soon after that technology is bought and absorbed by a larger company. After all, they have lost control of their creation and have been richly compensated for that fact. Moving on to a new challenge is a natural reaction.

The same report says that Kristan Andaker is moving to head up Yammer development. Kristan is well-known to the Exchange community as he has worked in the Exchange product group for years. I wish him well with his new responsibilities as he leads the further integration of Yammer within Office 365. It is quite a task.

I have been trying to use Yammer in a productive manner since April, mostly through the Office 365 IT Pro Network that anyone can join. Over 14,000 people have subscribed to this network but the contributions made in the groups are not as dynamic as you might expect. Maybe that's indicative of people finding their way with Yammer. My other exposure is in some private groups that are being used as a communication vehicle between Microsoft and MVPs.

My conclusion is that Yammer is a reasonable collaboration tool that offers the great benefit of making information that has been shared with a group available to anyone who joins that group. Of course, we have been doing this with Exchange for years by including a mail-enabled public folder in distribution groups so that anyone who joins the group can consult the public folder to find out what happened before. Yammer is certainly more elegant and modern in this respect, but the same practical outcome occurs.

I guess my issue with Yammer is that it’s yet another way that people can communicate. It can be confusing for a user to know what the “best” way is to communicate in any particular circumstance. Should they:

  • Send an email?
  • Post a document in a SharePoint library?
  • Tweet?
  • Post in a Yammer group?

I'm sure that you can come up with other methods. The point is that all of the approaches listed are the right answer in different contexts. Email is obviously the best way to communicate when you want to share some private information with a well-defined set of correspondents. Posting a document in SharePoint is probably the best method of sharing it with a group with which you plan to collaborate to develop and refine the contents of the document. Tweeting is a good way of informing people outside the company that something is happening. And posting in a Yammer group is a way of sharing information with those who subscribe to that group.

I’ve heard some say that Yammer is the equivalent of “internal Facebook” and that seems like a reasonable description if you compare Yammer groups to Facebook groups, such as the one that many of us access to share information about Exchange. Launching an internal tool that enables the same kind of easy information sharing as Facebook does for the wider public seems an attractive notion, but Yammer is not Facebook.

I’ve also heard that Yammer will replace email – or rather, will replace a lot of the message traffic that occurs inside large corporations today. There’s no doubt that a lot of email could be suppressed or channelled elsewhere with no loss of productivity or information sharing. However, simply replacing one tool with another is not a good tactic unless the replacement delivers obvious and measurable benefits for users and the company. I don’t see this happening today with Yammer. Perhaps it will happen after Microsoft has had more time to integrate Yammer better with the rest of the Office server products. As suggested in this article, a lot of the development work that is happening now is at the back end (like single sign-on) and the pretty up-front functionality will come later.

Email is the Swiss Army knife of collaboration. Although email might not be as elegant as other means of communication, it gets the job done. You can even interact with Yammer through email. And best of all, email flows through well-developed clients like Outlook and is available on a variety of platforms. So there is very little hindrance to the user who decides to use email for everything, even if the corporate gods of collaboration would wish them to make a decision as to the best tool for an individual act of sharing. People don’t have the time.

I’m sure that Microsoft will do its level best to integrate Yammer better with the rest of Office 365 and with clients like Outlook and Outlook Web App. But I still can’t get rid of the thought that Yammer is a technology desperately seeking to be a solution for collaboration.

I have no doubt that Yammer is successful in situations where it is perfectly deployed by people who understand what Yammer is designed to do and accepted by users who understand how to exploit it alongside other technologies. But these environments are few and far between, which is why I think Yammer has an uphill battle. It sounds like leaving Microsoft was a good decision for David Sacks. Time will tell.

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna

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