Yammer – Twitter Behind the Firewall… and Turbocharged

Yammer logo If you follow the bright new shiny object brigade, you probably already know about Yammer, the company that takes Twitter‘s concept and applying it to corporate communications. Yammer won the top award at the recent TechCruch50 conference, and has already accomplished what Twitter has so far failed to do: it has a business model.

We’ve been trying Yammer out in our office over the last week or so and I have a few observations on things I do and don’t like. First, though, a little bit about the service.

Yammer essentially takes Twitter, fixes all the things you don’t like about it, and slaps a gate in front of your network so only people in your company can see what you write. Access is determined primarily by domain name – you need a corporate email address to join. That, in theory, makes it a lot easier for people to collaborate on work over the service than on Twitter, as they don’t have to worry about others seeing proprietary information.

Yammer’s business model is built around enhanced enterprise features. For a whopping $1 per company user per month, you gain access to admin features including:

  • The ability to remove company members (essentially, to ‘claim’ your company’s network) and delete messages
  • Set password policies
  • Set additional security options when people log in from new computers
  • Restrict access via IP numbers to your corporate network or VPN users
  • White-label your network

With the basics said, here are my thoughts…

Pros

  • Yammer itself provides both a desktop and blackberry/iPhone apps, and provides SMS and instant messenger integration
  • Yammer’s web interface is everything Twitter’s isn’t (but should have been a long time ago). Think of something about Twitter’s web interface that frustrates you; chances are that Yammer has fixed it:
    • It updates automatically
    • It sorts conversations into threads
    • It picks up @[username] replies wherever they are in your message
  • You don’t have to see messages from everyone in your company; like Twitter, Yammer lets you subscribe to individual users’ updates.
  • Because the service is small and, by its nature will grow relatively slower, it should experience less reliability problems than its predecessors
  • The service provides an effective, real-time way for people to collaborate across teams or organizations. While we use IM at work, Yammer is an effective way to throw a query out to lots of people without clogging their inboxes
  • Yammer has tagging built-in. This provides an effective way to track project-related work. Tag all your messages with #ProjectX and you have an easily-accessible record of conversations around that project. Yammer’s web interface shows the most common tags in the sidebar
  • The corporate nature of Yammer means you don’t get the useless noise that Twitter suffers from. The signal/noise ratio is much higher here
  • You could create your own version of Yammer in-house, but the point of Yammer is that it means you don’t have to go to that hassle. That’s a big plus for a lot of companies.

Cons

  • As Mathew Ingram points out, Twitter could implement Yammer’s functionality without too much difficulty. Yammer would be obsolete overnight
  • If your company has multiple domains for email (as ours does), there’s no way to get everyone on the network without subscribing to Yammer’s premium option
  • As with any enterprise application, you get out what everyone puts in. The people I see using Yammer are the same people who are active on services like Twitter anyway. Services like Yammer experience the same network effects as email or, historically, the fax machine – the more people that use it, the more valuable it becomes. Unless most people in your company use it, you’re effectively just replicating an instant messenger service
  • I wish it didn’t ask “What are you working on?” on the web interface. It’s too easy for people who are new to this type of service to take it literally. Knowing that you’re working on a presentation for conference X means little to me. I only care what you’re doing if you need help, if you’re helping me or if you’re sharing something important or interesting related to our business
  • Sharing corporate work on a third-party service raises a couple of issues, which may be more or less important depending on how much you trust cloud computing:
    • From a company knowledge-management perspective it’s hard to work a service like Yammer into your system. The laconi.ca/Twhirl system proposed by Chris Brogan may be preferable from that perspective
    • The fact that your data is stored by a third party may raise concerns over data security (again, depending on your trust level)
    • Yammer is a startup. There’s a risk that if your project information is hosted with the service and it goes down, then you’ll lose your project history.

Conclusion

Bottom line: I like Yammer. I don’t know if it deserved to win the TC50 award or not, given that Yammer largely replicates existing services, but it does what it sets out to do, it does it effectively and, unlike many social media companies, it does so with a business model.

I expect Yammer’s success in any particular company to be determined by organizational culture, how it is implemented and whether people actually use it, rather than shortcomings of the service.

If Twitter does turn around and implement this kind of functionality, though, life could get interesting for these guys.