Yammer on Tour – Ehh…yeah….ehh

Yesterday I attended the Yammer on Tour business event in Amsterdam. Advertised as “an interactive, educational and fun event to learn how to harness the power of Enterprise Social Networks“. As my knowledge about Yammer was fairly limited and I’m always interested in anything having to do with Social Business I saw it as a perfect opportunity to see what Yammer is and what it can do for an organization.

They definitely got the buzz right. Over 300 people attended and there was a definite vibe.

Some observations….

Conversation:
Trying to find out what Yammer can do it all kept going back to the main focus; the message feed. Now I’ve got to hand it to them, they’ve got that part right. It’s easy to navigate, has algorithms to surface important and relevant conversations and allows for things like @-mentioning. Something I think is really very important for making real and collaborative conversation possible.
The one thing I was missing though was collaboration. Yes they have ‘Files’ where you can share files, have some versioning and comments, but it almost seems to hang on….not knowing what it’s position is in the overall configuration.

Similarly they’ve got Pages. Text documents that you can work on simultaneously with groups of people, co-authoring it on the fly. Again, nice but very limited and the result is not an actual document but a page posted to Yammer.So using it to work on a real project proposal or a spread sheet is out of the question as it’s only basic text with some very limited formatting (bold, underline, italic,indent, strike-through and bulleted lists).

Yammer to me, is all about the conversation but still has a long way to go for the collaboration.

Privacy & Data:
One of the slides shown was that of actual registered users.Apparently Yammer right now has about 4 million paying users, half a million of which are located in The Netherlands alone. Making it their top market right after the US. Still they do not support, or have plans in the foreseeable future, to host data centers in Europe (as stated by David Sacks,CEO of Yammer on being questioned about this). Something I think could really hurt them in the end as EU data&privacy laws are increasingly bogging down on privacy data security.

Partner integration:
As part of the event a showcase floor was set up  with stations around the room for people to see what Yammer & partners can do. Out of approximately 15 stations only 3were from partners selling software that connects with Yammer and all of those were more or less just pushing notifications into the activity stream. All other stations were desks manned by Yammer employees. It did make me wonder how well connected it really is.
On asking I got told that up till now there is no interaction model. It’s simply feed updates that are being pushed into a object model. So even though the notification gets into the activity stream, any actions with that data (even a simple workflow) will still take the user out of Yammer.

Mobile:
Right at the start of the event I was sitting next to someone who has been advising Yammer to customers and training them. He told me quite frankly he loved Yammer, but not on his mobile as the mobile apps were crap. Low and behold, one of the presenters asks the audience to participate in an little demonstration by life editing a page he has up. Of course I try thisin the iPad app but simply can’t find the page. It turns out the mobile apps don’t support any of the other features apart from showing the feed. For other functionalities one has to rely on a browser.
Now that’s mildly ok on an iPad, but on a phone…. I was not surprised to see no more than 4 people out of a 300+ audience actually partake in that little demonstration. Yammer clearly has a long way to go there to fully leverage the ‘Mobile’ idea.

Business Model:
Another interesting discussion I had was with a Sales representative who I asked about the sales model. Apparently an enterprise license is $15 a month a user. Now for that privilege you get the right to setup an unlimited amount of premium external facing communities (based on a mail domain or general) with up to 100 users each. So when I asked him: “Ok, so when I set up a mail domain with 2 users, register that for an enterprise license a30$ a month, I then have the ability to set up a community for my 100 man strong company for free?”.… ‘ehh..yes’. “And will it do the same as the registered community?”.… ‘yeah’. “So why would I buy a full license at 1500$ a month then if I have less then 100users?!?”…. ‘ehh’.

I can’t really get my head around that business model yet.

Overall I can say, I liked what I saw. They’ve got the interface spot on. Clean, very ‘Facebooky’. Easy to navigate and understandable to users with limited knowledge of social networks. They’ve really build an impressive internal social stream system. But to me that is it. As a collaboration tool it still has a long way to go.

The thing that really impressed me though about Yammer is the way it is penetrating the market. Their idea of offering anyone the freedom to set it up, free of cost and without requiring or assuming any ‘managing’ responsibility means that it is penetrating organizations from the bottom up and with an ease that is unprecedented. Instead of having to go through IT or management, employees can now initiate this completely on their own….. and they are doing it. Inviting and enticing co-workers as they go.

I talked to or heard of at least 5 Line of Business managers at the event that were introduced to Yammer not by their IT department or management but by their staff who had already started using it and then simply invited them. All of them felt they couldn’t ignore it and where there to learn more about it.

So interesting tool and certainly one to keep an eye on!

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