Sunday, 28 September 2008

Some Thoughts on the Yammer Clamour

After it took top prize at TechCrunch50, earlier this month, an enterprising soul in the enterprise for which I work took it upon himself to get us into Yammer. Unless you've been living under a stone - or more likely, don't give a flying one about corporate stuff - you will be aware that Yammer is being touted by some as "Twitter for the enterprise." And the hype? Oh my... the hype! Even this post you are reading now is contributing to a level of hype that makes Twitter look like some shy, shrinking violet.

Yammer's website explains the proposition: "Yammer is a tool for making companies and organizations more productive through the exchange of short frequent answers to one simple question: 'What are you working on?'...Anyone in a company can start their Yammer network and begin inviting colleagues. The privacy of each network is ensured by limiting access to those with a valid company email address."

While I have been a Twitterer for 18months or so, I've only been using Yammer for about a fortnight. Nevertheless, I've now got enough thoughts about it rattling around in my head that I wish to extract and deposit in words. The thoughts fall into 2 streams, answering the following questions:

Is Yammer really a "twitter for the enterprise"?

In a word: No. Superficially, it looks similar. You have 140 a bunch of characters to record each micro-post. You can elect to follow people. You can reply to other people's posts. So far - so twittersome. But to use Yammer, you need a company email address. How is that an issue? Well, in Twitter I can set up an information "push" channel, using any old email address I care to create, and I can then use this channel to give you news, views and general info in an impersonal way. For your part, you elect to tune in or not. Yammer ties a user to a company email address and a Yammer profile - in effect, it is personal. So creating an impersonal "push channel", such as a "HR News" feed, would be cumbersome, and may even breach company email rules and policies. Thus a facility that is easily exploited in Twitter, and that would be of benefit in a corporate environment, is seemingly unavailable.

A major concern for any enterprise solution is security. I confess I've not looked at the detail of the "paid for" service from Yammer, which offers the ability to manage the security of one's network. However, it is clear that this remains a hosted service, and therefore the more security-minded are likely to conclude that it is not safe enough for company confidential communication. And if it's not safe enough for this level of communication, it is then of questionable value within the enterprise.

A final point for consideration is scale. I work for an enterprise with around 60,000 employees, worldwide (in fact, Wikipedia tells me it has risen to over 86,000 in 2008). An enterprise solution needs the ability to reach everyone within the enterprise - but an individual grunt in the field, like me, does not want to be deluged by the idle ponderings of all of these folk, all of the time. Yet the filter offered by the "follow" facility strikes me as inadequate within this enterprise context. At work, I am actually part of many different networks: some overlapping, some not. I have personal networks, profession-based networks and managerial networks. In short, the corporate world is a complicated place in which each of us has his/her own network needs. A simple "follow" does not come close to addressing this. Yammer is better suited to the Small-to-Medium end of the Enterprise world, where one's networks are fewer and smaller.

So to reiterate my answer to my first question: No.

What would I want in such a tool for the enterprise?

I am a dedicated (some might say, obsessive) Twitterer and I do believe that a Twitter-like tool, restricted to just the company, would be very useful. However, it would need a few tweaks (or major surgery!):

First, it would need to support push channels. Whether it is your Networks Department telling you of planned outages, the arrival of the Sandwich Lady at your office or the CEO telling you where to find the company's annual results - there are many push channels that are of value within the enterprise. Of course, such channels are useless unless you know about them - so a search or browse facility would be a "must have" too.

Second, it would need to support groups - the return of the SIG (if it ever went away). I like Chatterous - a tool still in beta release - as it offers me the opportunity to exchange messages within cliques or groups. I would like to see something similar for corporate use. Given I work in a projects-based organisation, working with teams scattered around the globe, having project group chat/micro-blogging would be very useful. I can see that too many groups would be cumbersome and could rapidly become ineffective - but I'd be willing to test that theory!

Finally: security. I would want to know that I can bring the solution within my firewalls and keep all traces and logs on our own servers.


I am not claiming this ramble makes much sense and it should not be taken as representing the position of my company on Yammer, Twitter or anything else, really. I'm just sayin'...


Jaykul said...

Sounds like what you want is ... (too bad it's not free).

Aleister Kronos said...

Indeed. Both Yammer and charge a not-inconsiderable sum. At least in's case, it does seem to cover pretty much all of my needs.

Now where can I find an open source equivalent??

rjjm said...

nice article. Agree with Kronos in that it would be great to have an open source version of these tools for internal deployment. Anyone know of enterprise software along twitted lines?

PortSeven said...

Well as you know there is Laconica which run's the site.

My views as you well know, that someone should build from scratch or contribute to the Laconica project to get the features added that we want.