Tag Archives: complexity

Yammer Bangs On oneDrum

This entry was cross-posted from Meanders: The Dow Brook Blog.

Yammer logoYammer announced on Wednesday that it has acquired oneDrum, a UK-based provider of file sharing and collaborative editing tools for Microsoft Office users. Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed. oneDrum’s technology and people will be integrated into Yammer.

In a briefing on the acquisition, Yammer CTO and Co-Founder, Adam Pisoni, stated that the deal was done to quickly accelerate movement toward Yammer’s primary strategic objective – to be the social layer, spanning key enterprise applications, in which its customers (and their extended business networks) get work done.

Yammer’s action is consistent with its strategy to release usable, but not ideal, functionality and then improve upon it as quickly as possible. Yammer introduced the homegrown Files component into its suite late last year. With oneDrum’s technology, Yammer will be able to improve its Files component by enabling syncing of files to desktop folders and mobile devices, as well as automatic sharing of new and updated files with other members of Yammer groups. As usual, Yammer seeks to occupy the middle ground, offering file sharing functionality that has some of the necessary enterprise-grade security and manageability that consumer Web services lack, while retaining as much ease-of-use as possible. Yammer’s ability to balance complexity and usability is what differentiates it from the majority of the other enterprise social software offerings in the market.

The current file creation and editing capabilities available in the Pages component of Yammer will be nicely complemented by the introduction of oneDrum’s ability to co-create and co-edit Office files (Excel and PowerPoint now, Word in development) with others. Many may interpret the addition of this capability, together with the added file sync and sharing functionality, as an indirect attack on Microsoft SharePoint by Yammer. Pisoni clearly stated that Yammer will continue to offer customers integrations with SharePoint, as well as with Box, Dropbox and other content repositories. He did, however, acknowledge that while Yammer is not intentionally targeting SharePoint, many of its customers see their Yammer networks negating existing SharePoint use cases.

Yammer’s real target appears to be email, which offers a single place where people may communicate, share content and get work done. Pisoni spoke about the symbiotic relationship between content and conversation in social networks, as well as the blurring line between content and communication. The former is clearly demonstrated by the frequency in which enterprise (and consumer) social interactions are anchored around a specific piece of content, whether that be a traditional document, blog post, wiki entry, status update, audio snippet, photo or video. The latter is evidenced by the growing enterprise use of blog posts, wiki entries and, especially, status updates to share content (and explicit knowledge) in small chunks, rather than waiting to gather it in a document that is distributed by email.

Pisoni’s assertion that the distinction between content and communication is blurring is interesting, but less persuasive. Much of the asynchronous communication within organizations is still only secondary to the content that is contained in attached (or linked) files. Corporate email use as a transmission mechanism for documents is a clear, common example. Yammer’s vision for decreasing email volume appears to involve using oneDrum’s support for real-time chat between individuals working together in an Office document (Excel and PowerPoint only at present) as a means to blend content and communication to help people get work done faster. It will be interesting to see if Yammer network members adopt this envisioned way of working as an alternative to entrenched communication and content sharing norms.

oneDrum was not well known in the U.S., as it was a very small vendor with a beta status offering. However, it appears that Yammer has made a good acquisition that will help the company, and its customers, address the changing nature of business organizations and work. The devil, of course, is in the details, so we will have to watch and see how well Yammer assimilates its first acquired company.

More on Microblogging: Evolution of the Enterprise Market

Following my post last week on the need for additional filters in enterprise microblogging tools and activity streams, I participated in an interesting Twitter conversation on the subject of microblogging and complexity. The spontaneous conversation began when Greg Lowe, a well-respected Enterprise 2.0 evangelist at Alcatel-Lucent, asked:

“Can stand alone micro-blogging solutions survive when platform plays introduce the feature?”

I immediately replied:

“Yes, if they innovate faster”

Greg shot back:

“is microblogging autonomy about innovation, or simple elegance? More features usually leads to lower usability?”

And, later, he asked a complementary question:

“is there a risk of Microblogging becoming “too complicated”?”

Is Greg on to something here? Do more features usually lead to lower usability? Will functional innovation be the downfall of stand-alone microblogging solutions, or will it help them stay ahead of platform vendors as they incorporate microblogging into their offerings?

One of the commonly heard complaints about software in general, and enterprise software in particular, is that it is too complicated. There are too many features and functions, and how to make use of them is not intuitive. On the other hand, usability is a hallmark of Web 2.0 software, and, if we make it too complex, it is likely that some people will abandon it in favor of simpler tools, whatever those may be.

But that dichotomy does not tell the entire story. Based on anecdotal evidence (there is no published quantitative research available), early adopters of Web 2.0 software in the enterprise appear to value simplicity in software they use. However, as a colleague, Thomas Vander Wal, pointed out to me yesterday, that may not be true for later, mainstream adopters. Ease-of-use may be desirable in microblogging (or any other) software, but having adequate features to enable effective, efficient usage is also necessary to achieve significant adoption. Later adopters need to see that a tool can help them in a significant way before they will begin to use it; marginal utility does not sway them, even if the tool is highly usable.

Simple may not be sustainable. As I wrote last week in this post, as enterprise use of microblogging and activity streams has increased and matured, so has the need for filters. Individuals, workgroups, and communities want to direct micro-messages to specific recipients, and they need to filter their activity streams to increase their ability to make sense out of the raging river of incoming information. Those needs will only increase as more workers microblog and more information sources are integrated into activity streams.

In the public microblogging sphere, Twitter provides a solid example of the need to add functionality to a simple service as adoption grows in terms of registered users and use cases. As more individuals used Twitter, in ways that were never envisioned by its creators, the service responded by adding functionality such as search, re-tweeting, and lists. Each of these features added some degree of complexity to the service, but also improved its usability and value.

In the evolution of any software, there is a trade-off between simplicity and functionality that must be carefully managed. How does one do that? One way is to continuously solicit and accept user feedback. That allows the software provider and organizations deploying it to sense when they are nearing the point where functionality begins to overwhelm ease of use in a harmful manner. Another technique is to roll out new features in small doses at reasonable intervals. Some even advocate slipping new features in unannounced and letting users discover them for themselves. Hosted deployment of software (whether on-premise or off-site) makes this easier to do, since new features are automatically switched on for people using the software.

So back to the original question; can stand-alone microblogging solutions fend off the collaboration suite and platform vendors as they incorporate microblogging and activity streams in their offerings? My definitive answer is “yes”, because there is still room for functionality to be added to microblogging before it becomes over-complicated.

Based on the historical evolution of other software types and categories, it is likely that the smaller vendors, who are  intensely focused on microblogging, will be the innovators, rather than the platform players. As long as vendors of stand-alone microblogging offerings continue to innovate quickly without confusing their customers, they will thrive. That said, a platform vendor could drive microblogging feature innovation if they so desired; think about what IBM has done with its Sametime instant messaging platform. However, I see no evidence of that happening in the microblogging sphere at this time.

The most plausible scenario is that at some point, small, focused vendors driving microblogging innovation (e.g. Socialcast, Yammer) will be acquired by larger vendors, who will integrate the acquired features into their collaboration suite or platform. My sense is that we are still 2-3 years away from that happening, because there is still room for value-producing innovation in microblogging.

What do you think?

Emerging Enterprise Content Management Trends

Crystal Ball Gazing

I was at the Gilbane Conference in San Francisco last week, where I answered questions as a panelist, moderated another panel, heard many excellent presentations, and joined in many engaging discussions. On the plane ride home, I took some time to piece together the individual bits of information and opinion that I had absorbed during the two-day event. This reflection led to the following observations regarding the state of enterprise content management practices and technologies.

Up With People

Many content software vendors are now focusing on people first, content second. This is a huge shift in perspective, especially when voiced at a content management conference! Kumar Vora, Vice President & General Manager, Enterprise at Adobe was the first person to proclaim this philosophical change during his opening keynote presentation at Gilbane San Francisco. He reported that Adobe has shifted its business philosophy to focus on serving people and their needs, as opposed to thinking about content first. Many other vendor representatives and attendees from end user organizations echoed Kumar’s emphasis on people during the event. It is too early to say definitively what this radical change in perspective means, but we should see more user friendly enterprise content management tools as a result.

Keyword Fail

Keyword search has largely failed end users and incremental improvements haven’t been able to keep up with the explosion in newly created content. Jeff Fried, VP Product Management for Microsoft’s FAST search engine actually proclaimed that “keyword search is dead!” The business world is at a point where alternatives, including machine-generated and social search techniques, must be explored. The latter method was on many attendees minds and lips, which should not surprise, given the shift to people-centric thinking identified above. Social search will be an increasingly hot topic in 2009 and 2010.

SharePoint Upheaval

Microsoft SharePoint 2010 has the potential to completely shake up the information management market. The next version of SharePoint will likely include a raft of (as of yet unconfirmed) Web Content Management features that have been missing or rudimentary. In her keynote address, Tricia Bush, Group Product Manager for SharePoint said that the promise of content management has not yet been realized and that her team is focusing diligently on the opportunity. This increased emphasis on content management is contrary to the first trend that I described above, and the negative perceptions many hold of SharePoint may increase unless Microsoft also better enables people in SharePoint 2010 (it is rumored that the product will also see substantial additions to its currently limited social collaboration functionality.) Those placing bets should do so knowing that Microsoft intends to, and probably will, be a major force in enterprise information management.

Simplicity Trumps Complexity

Enterprise applications and systems managed by IT departments continue to grow in complexity. As this happens, end users turn to simpler alternatives, including consumer oriented Web 2.0 applications, in order to get work done. The “problem” is that these consumer applications aren’t approved or controlled by the IT function. The opportunity is a potentially large market for software vendors that can create enterprise ready versions of Web 2.0 applications by adding security, reliability, and other attributes demanded by CIOs. For those vendors to succeed, however, they must retain the simplicity (intuitiveness and ease of use) that are the hallmark of consumer Web 2.0 applications.

Communication Beats Publishing

Communication applications are increasingly being used by end users to collaborate, because enterprise content management applications have become too complex (see the trend immediately above). Additionally, communication tools are favored by end users because they can use them to simultaneously create and distribute content. This increased speed of content publication also accelerates general business process execution, allowing users of communication tools to be more productive than users of formal enterprise content systems. Communication tools will continue to become an important and growing back channel that employees use to share content when overly complex publishing tools impede or fail them.

Having one’s ideas validated by a reputable peer is always rewarding. John Mancini, President of AIIM, published a blog post in the time between when I first formulated these thoughts on the flight home from San Francisco last week and when I published this post today. Reading John’s post should encourage you to believe that the trends I (and he) have described are for real. The question for all of us now is how will we respond to these emerging realities.

Photo credit: Charles Soper (via Flickr)