In just a few years, Yammer has grown to be one of the most popular enterprise social networking services. The company reports having 4 million users and expects to have 10 million by the end of 2012.
Under the rubric "Make content social", Yammer added some new features to its service in November 2011. I describe them below and report on an interview with David Sacks, the company’s CEO.
This is a lengthy article, of well over 3,000 words, so I have split it into two parts. The second part will appear in a week's time and will cover my impressions of the software and my assessment of the company.
Yammer is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering. It began in September 2008, spun out of an online genealogy service called Geni. There’s an account of the launch on TechCrunch.
One commenter at the time asked:
What company in its right mind is going to let its employees waste time and share company secrets with a third party web site?
Three years later, the answer is over 100,000 of them. Some are named here, with links to case studies.
Yammer’s developers consciously modelled the service on social media networks, exploiting what users already know and are used to. When launched, Yammer looked and behaved like Twitter.
These days, the service is more often described as "Facebook for the enterprise", particularly since the launch of Yammer 2.0 in September 2010. The press release is here. CMS Wire also has details.
The service works on the ‘freemium’ model. Features on the free version include microblogging (but with no 140-character constraint), forums, polls, tagging, presence indicators, status updates, RSS feeds and personal and group messages ("Yams"). There are APIs for users wishing to bind Yammer to other programs.
All versions of the service run on Yammer's servers, files being stored on Amazon's S3 cloud system.
Access can be from Web browsers, Windows or Apple PCs, iPads and most mobile telephones (from which people can also text their account). Users can receive daily or weekly activity digests by email.
Yammer is available in 25 languages, including British English. Third parties are making other translations.
Upgrading to the Basic version costs $5 a month for each user – $60 per head annually. Users gain greater control of administration and security and can do some customising.
Organizations with more than 100 users can opt for the Enterprise version. This is cheaper per head (how much so is by negotiation) and offers better support, single sign-on to multiple systems and other advantages.
At this level, integration becomes possible with various enterprise systems, including Microsoft SharePoint, and with MS Active Directory Server. There are details here.
Making content social
In early November 2011, Yammer announced improved handling and sharing of uploaded files and the ability to create wiki-style shared pages. Pages allows simultaneous, real-time shared editing. Files and Pages can be attached to messages and tracked for updates.
The major announcement was of a new activity stream element called Ticker. This tool is significant in that it can link Yammer to the systems of record and of action at the heart of an organization. (See here, from a recent article on Social BPM, for more on those.)
Ticker potentially gives Yammer's ‘Enterprise’ users access to any program or data that is on the Web, on a company intranet or within their enterprise systems. Each source appears in its own window within the Yammer alerts area ("Activity Stream").
By keeping these system-generated alerts within Ticker, Yammer stops them overwhelming the human conversations that also appear on the screen and that are the heart of the system. (Screen grab courtesy of Yammer, Inc.)
Ticker (in the box)
David Sacks says, "These streams are more than notifications but won’t undermine the status of large apps as systems of record. Users can’t change a record from Yammer but can do so from within a window within it." They provide, he says, integration without programming. He added that integration is “a huge focus” for the company:
Yammer uses what it calls Open Graph for Enterprise as the mechanism for this integration. It is a variant of the Facebook-inspired Open Graph protocol.
In a lightweight version of client-server computing, Open Graph puts a wrapper around data resources so they can be presented in a social setting. There are, naturally, similarities with Facebook Ticker (see TechCrunch again) but there is also a significant difference between the two. In Yammer, the customer's system manager or IT function owns the feed; in Facebook, the individual user does – as does Facebook.
Mr Sacks contrasted Open Graph with the Google-originated OpenSocial protocol. That, too, creates containers but wraps the line-of-business software around the social software. In his view, this is “an old model”. “Trying to make everyone’s app run inside your site is the wrong way.”
Integrating using Open Graph is easy, fast and versatile, all of which makes business sense for a company like Yammer. It will have neither the wish nor the resources to enter the markets for ERP, BI and similar enterprise programs. Those markets are already competitively replete. Besides, customers for established line-of business products would be unwilling to switch to Yammer.
Yammer had announced its use of the Open Graph protocol in May 2011. The ability to link with Salesforce.com and Netsuite was made public then, adding to the existing connection with Microsoft SharePoint files. Six further suppliers joined them in November, including Box, Expensify and Zendesk.
Going the other way – putting Yammer ‘inside’ line-of business software – is also possible. Yammer Embed lets feeds from Yammer appear within a line-of-business program. Users can view and take part in Yammer discussions without leaving that program. Embedding a Yammer feed is similar to the copy-and-paste process of embedding a YouTube video or Flickr picture.
Interview with David Sacks
Mr Sacks and I spoke in October 2011. I had given him notice of four questions, which formed a framework for the conversation:
- Why and how will Yammer succeed?
- Who or what is most likely to stop it?
- Whom does Yammer come up against most often when bidding for enterprise business?
- What do you see in the next year – for Yammer and for social networking in general?
Mr Sacks politely treated these dolly drops of questions seriously. Here’s a summary of his replies.
Q1: Why and how will Yammer succeed?
Mr Sacks painted the portrait of a product that has entered a rapidly growing market at the right time and has the right qualities for that market:
- Yammer was "first to market with the idea of an enterprise social network." (See Note, below.)
- "Enterprise social network’s day has come".
- Yammer is not only gaining customers and users fast, it is "iterating product fastest."
- The service is "100% SaaS, designed expressly for ESN, so is architecturally right."
(Note: I didn't know this at the time of the interview but other suppliers had beaten Yammer to the punch. One of them was Microsoft. In 2006, it announced a now defunct add-in called Knowledge Network for SharePoint Server. A Microsoft document of the time described it as being "focused on enterprise social networking, automatic discovery, and sharing of undocumented knowledge and relationships.")
Several times Mr Sacks compared Yammer with its main competitors – Jive and Salesforce.com’s Chatter. This was seldom to their advantage, of course. He saw Yammer’s architecture, rate of growth and ability to bring in new features quickly as particular areas of superiority.
Yammer will continue with the freemium model. Mr Sacks says his company never suffers from the 'doesn't work as advertised' effect". People will largely know what they're paying for when they upgrade, as the core features of all versions are the same. The only unfamiliar aspects will be the extra capabilities for users and administrators.
SaaS working, said David Sacks, allows users and user organizations to be "more relaxed about resource utilisation" because it’s not their resources they are using. (See "Done – our survey of SaaS-based enterprise social networking" for more on the good – and bad – of using SaaS ESN.)
Mr Sacks couldn’t give a typical size of user organization but did say that 15% to 20% of users are paying for Yammer. That’s at least 600,00 paid-for seats, probably about the same as Jive has.
Q2. Who or what is most likely to stop it?
The biggest danger, says Mr Sacks, is failing to “execute the plan”.
“Would there have been a demand three years ago?”, he asks. There is now such a market. Yammer will stay ahead of it, so long as it “doesn’t drop the ball”.
David Sacks said he saw no insurmountable threats from competitors.
Q3. Whom does Yammer come up against most often…
“Yammer!”, was the answer. The company’s enterprise sales teams have mainly to sell against the free version of the service. It’s a fragmented market and Yammer doesn’t often find itself trying to displace an incumbent supplier.
The converse of this is that Yammer is often the incumbent against whom its competitors must sell.
Q4. What does Mr Sacks see in the next year…
For the market in general, David Sacks believes “every enterprise app will become social”. (See a different recent post about Social BPM for more on this.). That presents an opportunity for Yammer as an aggregator.
“It’s all about integration”, Mr Sacks says. Looking at the list of required capabilities in my article on the ingredients of enterprise social software, he said Yammer could do all that. Since there hadn’t been time to do more than scan the list, it would be unfair to challenge him on every detail of it. Nonetheless, it’s a bold claim.
I asked about the various human, technical and financial links Yammer has with Facebook. David Sacks said Facebook inspires Yammer but that his company “is not beholden” to it. Yammer expanded on Facebook's OpenGraph protocol with OpenGraph for Enterprise, for example.
Part 2 will follow next week. I try the software and give my assessment of the service and its future.