Present.ly – Internal Microblogging Just Got Better

Present.lyLast September I wrote about Yammer, a Twitter-like “microblogging” service designed for internal use by organizations. At the time I decided I liked it, describing it as “Twitter behind the firewall… and turbocharged.”

Issues with Yammer

We tried Yammer out for a while, and I revisited the tool about a month later on this site to look at different perspectives on Yammer’s pros and cons. Essentially Yammer’s effectiveness seemed to come down to organizational culture – if your culture supported a tool like that then great; otherwise it would fail.

However, we also encountered another problem: Yammer restricts membership in a network by email domain. Our company has two units– the public relations group at Thornley Fallis, and our colleagues on the web/interactive side at 76design. We have different email addresses for each unit, so we couldn’t all be part of the same Yammer network.

We toyed with the idea of building an application in-house, but instead recently chose to try out a different application, Present.ly, for our organization.

As it says on its site, “Present.ly is a simple, private way to keep everyone up-to-date.” Like Yammer, it’s like an up-market Twitter for use within your organization.

My first impressions: very good, but still a little buggy.

As we did with Yammer, let’s take a look at the pros and cons in turn.

Pros

  • Allows membership by invitation, by domain, by access code or open to everyone.
  • Present.ly’s groups feature lets you limit your posts to the people who will find them relevant.
    • For example, we’ve set up a group for each geographic location and one for each division.
  • Desktop, Blackberry, android and iPhone applications, although we haven’t been able to get the Blackberry one to work yet.
  • Neat icons appear next to posts when they include a question (?) or an urgent message (!!!).
  • Mimics most Twitter syntax, and has an easy-to-access syntax guide to help new users.
  • Automatic updating on the Present.ly site; no need to refresh.
  • Ability to turn most email notifications on or off.
  • Ability to integrate posts with Twitter.
  • Allows you to attach files to posts (contrary to Stowe Boyd’s post, you can track files – under the ‘browse’ tab then under ‘files’)
  • Built-in hashtags (now built-in to Twitter, but wasn’t originally) let you track issues or client posts internally. We use it to track IT issues, for example.
  • If you run over the 140 character limit, Present.ly gives you two options instead of cutting you off:
    • You can keep typing and it will simply split your message into two posts.
    • You can ‘attach’ more text to your post.

 

Cons

  • Desktop app has a nasty habit of going into an infinite login window-creating loop if the login window loses focus. The only solution is to reboot. Not cool.
  • Desktop app can be a bit of a memory hog – seems to be a memory leak in there.
  • Several of us have had issues with the desktop app not refreshing automatically.
  • Syntax is a little picky – allows @ replies to be anywhere within posts, but only highlights them as replies if the @[username] is at the beginning of the message.
  • You can’t turn all email notifications off, so when an organization first starts using Present.ly the resulting email deluge is a nightmare.
  • Confusion over groups and following people – if you don’t follow someone but they post to a group you’re in, do you see the post? My feeling: you should. In practice: you don’t. That means you need to follow everyone in your groups.
    • In some cases you may not want to see everything so this could be fine (in large groups where you don’t know everyone, for example). However, the lack of clarity on this is an issue.

Conclusion

I like Yammer, but it has its limitations. Present.ly solves those limitations, but it does come with a few shortcomings of its own. They’re not as deal-breaking as Yammer’s issues for me, though, so Present.ly wins with me.

Once again, our success with this tool is going to come down to whether people use it constructively over time; many people are new to this kind of tool. I co-hosted a lunch and learn session for our Toronto office on the tool last week, and it was good to see the lightbulb go off with some people. Still it’s going to take some adjustment.

In the meantime, we’ve already started to see a few good uses:

  • Tracking IT issues using hashtags
  • Organizing people into common-sense, useful groups
  • Many-to-many conversations within groups
  • Sharing business successes throughout the company

I’m hoping to see this expand to cover more things – client-specific conversations and client groups, company-wide collaboration and more. Time will tell.

Have you used Present.ly? Yammer? Do you have a preference? What do you think of them? Do you think any of them have potential?

Julie HacheUpdate: My colleague Julie Hache has written an excellent & eloquent post over at 76design’s Shift+Control blog with her thoughts on Present.ly. Check it out.