Tag Archives: Yammer

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.

TIBCO Launches tibbr and Demonstrates the Difference Between Social Business and Enterprise 2.0

There has been a debate raging for a couple of months now on whether there is a difference between “Enterprise 2.0” and “Social Business” and, if so, what it is. The debate began concurrently with the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, held in Santa Clara, in November 2010. I weighed in then with my take in this post. Since then, the debate has moved over to Quora, where someone asked, “What are the distinctions between Social Business and Enterprise 2.0”.

In spite of all this discussion, it was not until today that the difference between Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business truly became clear to me. The event that triggered my new-found understanding of these terms was the launch of tibbr, TIBCO’s “social computing tool”.

As TIBCO Chairman and CEO Vivek Ranadivé explained during the launch event, tibbr was built to deliver the right information, to the right people, in the right context. A noble goal indeed. tibbr takes advantage of TIBCO’s well-honed expertise in the management of real-time messaging at scale, their extensive library of enterprise system adapters, and a real-time rules engine that creates context for content.

Note the discrepancy between Ranadivé’s statement and the actual focus of the tool. tibbr is all about systems integration and message delivery; people are incidental objects in the system. This is intentional, as stated in TIBCO’s press release on tibbr:

“tibbr breaks business users free from one-dimensional social tools that focus on people…”

Ram Menon, EVP Worldwide Marketing at TIBCO further underscored the notion that tibbr is not about people relationships in two remarks. In the first instance, Menon described tibbr in terms of “process, subjects, applications, and people”, literally in that order. Later, Menon said that within tibbr, one “can follow people, but most importantly [textual emphasis mine, but reflects his vocal inflection]…can follow applications, can follow data.”

Do you see it? tibbr is the poster child for Enterprise 2.0, as it was originally defined by Professor Andrew McAfee. tibbr is literally about applying Web 2.0 technology design principles to enterprise systems. Social Business, on the other hand, puts people first – before applications, processes, and subject entries in the corporate taxonomy. The difference could not be clearer.

Yes, one can follow another individual in tibbr. However, as Jon Scarpelli, VP of CIBER’s Outsourcing Practice recounted during the launch event, his company switched from Yammer to tibbr because CIBER employees were “more interested in following subjects”.

My point? Social Business is about people first. Enterprise 2.0 is primarily about technology that enables business processes (or, more accurately, barely repeatable processes and process exceptions) via human interaction. Both are valid and valuable approaches to structuring and running an organization, but it is critical to know which one your company values most. Does it want to be a social business that emphasizes and connects people, or an entity that uses Web 2.0 technologies to achieve business goals when rigid, transactional systems can’t help? Answer that question first, then choose your technology solution.

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?

Filtering Microblogging and Activity Streams

The use of microblogging and activity streams is maturing in the enterprise. This was demonstrated by recent announcements of enhancements to those components in two well-regarded enterprise social software suites.

On February 18th, NewsGator announced a point release to its flagship Enterprise 2.0 offering, Social Sites 3.1. According to NewsGator, this release introduces the ability for individuals using Social Sites to direct specific microblogging posts and status updates to individuals, groups, and communities. Previously, all such messages were distributed to all followers of the individual poster and to the general activity stream of the organization. Social Sites 3.1 also introduced the ability for individuals to filter their activity streams using “standard and custom filters”.

Yesterday (March 3rd), Socialtext announced a major new version of its enterprise social software suite, Socialtext 4.0. Both the microblogging component of Socialtext’s suite and its stand-along microblogging appliance now allow individuals to broadcast short messages to one or more groups (as well as to the entire organization and self-selected followers.) Socialtext 4.0 also let individuals filter their incoming activity stream to see posts from groups to which they belong (in addition to filtering the flow with the people and event filters that were present in earlier versions of the offering.)

The incorporation of these filters for outbound and incoming micro-messages are an important addition to the offerings of NewsGator and Socialtext, but they are long overdue. Socialcast has offered similar functionality for nearly two years and Yammer has included these capabilities for some time as well (and extended them to community members outside of an organization’s firewall, as announced on February 25th.) Of course, both Socialcast and Yammer will need to rapidly add additional filters and features to stay one step ahead of NewsGator and Socialtext, but that represents normal market dynamics and is not the real issue. The important question is this:

What other filters do individuals within organizations need to better direct microblogging posts and status updates to others, and to mine their activity streams?

I can easily imagine use cases for location, time/date, and job title/role filters. What other filters would be useful to you in either targeting the dissemination of a micro-message or winnowing a rushing activity stream?

One other important question that arises as the number of potential micro-messaging filters increases is what should be the default setting for views of outgoing and incoming messages? Should short bits of information be sent to everyone and activity streams show all organizational activity by default, so as to increase ambient awareness? Perhaps a job title/role filter should be the default, in order to maximize the focus and productivity of individuals?

There is no single answer other than “it depends”, because each organization is different. What matters is that the decision is taken (and not overlooked) with specific corporate objectives in mind and that individuals are given the means to easily and intuitively change the default target of their social communications and the pre-set lens through which they view those of others.

UPDATE (03/04/2010, 5:10pm Eastern): A commenter on this post at the Gilbane Group Blog made a really great point about how updates from Social CRM systems change the nature of activity streams. Here is his comment and my reply: