For about a year now my company has been using a social networking tool called Yammer. Yammer describes the service as “enterprise microblogging”, but it’s basically a secure, private Twitter that an organization can use internally. Yammer’s home page currently claims 40,000 companies use the service. Like Twitter, each user can build a short profile about themselves, then shoot out little messages to everyone in their network (e.g. your company) regarding what they are doing or thinking including the ability to attach a file to the message. There’s a way to subdivide the Yammer network into smaller groups (e.g. a group for office A and another for office B) so folks with common interests can communicate without everyone getting potentially unwelcome information. Messages can be generated and viewed using an Adobe AIR-based client, a Blackberry or iPhone app or through a web browser. There are other features, but these are the big ticket items. In generally, it’s a well designed service.
I use Twitter in my personal network and mostly I get random messages from friends about their children’s strange behavior, plans for the coming weekend, current weather and so forth. My own messages almost always fall within this same garden variety. If you look at typical Twitter traffic, it’s essentially electronic chit chat. How is Yammer traffic different? By and large it isn’t and that’s precisely its value. In today’s modern business place where employees often work remotely, by choice or due to travel, the proverbial water cooler conversation has largely disappeared. For some businesses in particular (such as consulting) or in segments of businesses (such as sales), employees can be especially isolated from one another. Tools like Yammer provides a way of maintaining a personal connection between far flung team members. And that connection isn’t always idle conversation or gossip. Often times, great ideas are generated or big problems solved by the casual hallway meeting that is increasingly uncommon. An unlike regular instant messaging, many people can listen in and join the conversation, just like that hallway meeting.
My experience with Yammer has also shown that it’s a useful tool for:
- disseminating information about what’s going on in the organization (“Hey! Didja hear we just won this deal with such and such new client?”),
- quickly reaching out with a question to many colleagues via a channel that’s not as busy as e-mail (and which is logged away for future reference by everyone in the company) and
- for simply sharing person tidbits.
It’s an impersonal way of making personal connections, if that makes sense. There are people I only know on Yammer because they live in Seattle or some other city, but their personalities and interests show through across the Internet based on the comments they make and the way they make them. It’s a little weird, but wonderful at the same time, because I’d not know them at all if it weren’t for my use of Yammer.
So, I like Yammer, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer that much of the basic functionality (if not all) could be recreated using direct competitor Present.ly, DIY social networking offerings such as Ning (which is more than messaging), the ageless Internet Relay Chat (IRC) or even Twitter (one can have a private account, you know). You can even make your own with open source package StatusNet. There are many options. So it’s not so much the tool I like, but the idea. I’m enamored with this type of communication capability, regardless of how you achieve it. If you work in an organization where face-time is ever decreasing, you might want to strongly consider rolling-out a capability like this.
Want more? Here’s a nice compilation of similar services from Mike Brevoort.