Wictor Wilén, SharePoint MVP discusses the question in a recent blog post “Has Yammer played out it’s role?”
He makes some great points:

  • Lack of integration with Office 365 after 3.5 years
  • Former Yammer leaders have moved on
  • Yammer are making some poor feature choices based on chicken and egg use of telemetry, rather than popular feature requests
  • Lack of innovation in recent times

Wictor outlines some good observations and comparisons between Yammer and Office 365 Groups, Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) and email.

I too agree that more needs to change with the core Yammer conversation experience. The Yammer Inbox experience is in need of attention, as Wictor rightly points out, “Mark all as read” has been one of the most frequent feature requests. So has the “Edit a post” feature. Though let’s be honest, can’t you edit an email once you have sent it? Many of us wish we could.

External networks

One area that Yammer is still strong in is external user participation. It’s easy to create an external network, groups in that network and invite people into it. Yammer provides a quick way to provision collaborative tools to external participants, hold conversations share documents, even edit them now using Office Online.

Groups will need to expand it’s external participant mechanism. It’s not enough to be part of an externally accessible distribution list otherwise organizations would just stick with that. External participants will want the full experience of collaborating in Groups. SharePoint Online use external user invites, authenticating using either a Microsoft or Office 365 account. It’s likely this will be extended to give external users access to using Groups Files. Notebooks will be covered by this too.

The challenge is going to be how to give external users the Conversations and Calendar experience of Groups. It’s sitting in a shared mailbox and accessible from ‘Outlook On The Web’ (OWA), Outlook 2016 and now Outlook Groups apps. How will Microsoft change access so an external user can open and participate in that underlying shared mailbox? They will still depend on authentication with a Microsoft or Office 365 account.

I’m sure Microsoft will come up with something. Maybe when Office 365 Groups has a complete experience for external user participation, Yammer might be breathing it’s last. Or maybe not. What does Yammer’s roadmap look like? Is it one of assimilation or integration? Are they beginning to ramp up innovation behind the scenes and the public aren’t seeing it yet? Time will tell.

Notification Disruption

It’s commonly said that Yammer creates more email notifications and makes your Inbox busier. Let’s compare this to Groups Conversations or email and distribution groups. Are Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) any more distracting than email when it comes to getting work done? In email centric companies, with all their distribution groups, reply-all’s, CCs and BCCs, the volume and frequency of email in Inboxes is also distracting from getting work done. This is why features like Clutter and focused mailboxes have been introduced.

Groups experience the same notification behaviour as Yammer. When you subscribe to a Yammer group or Office 365 group, you will receive an email every time someone posts or replies.
This is no different to being part of a distribution group. But Yammer and Office 365 Groups have one thing in their favour over distribution groups. You can unsubscribe from notifications and check the group periodically for messages. Office 365 Groups has a further advantage that with Outlook 2016, you can periodically check the conversations easily alongside your own Inbox. You’ll have to visit the Yammer site periodically to read conversations.

It’s the way we use it, not what we are using.

ESNs are no more of a time-waster than email. Some of us use email in the same way we use Instant Messaging. An email notification pop-up appears on our screen and we are compelled to read it and reply.

Interruption Science is the study of the effect of disruptions on job performance. It identifies notifications of all kinds as the source of interruptions – email, text messages, application notifications, phone calls and more. How we manage our notifications matters more than the platform or appliance that the notification comes from. We are more productive in our day by turning off our notifications for blocks of time and periodically checking our messages. This is a discipline that many of us could benefit from. That same discipline can be applied to checking ESNs.

It’s how we are using our chosen communication platforms that causes us to waste time. It’s not the platform itself. Discipline yourself to get blocks of work done in ‘quiet hours’ with notifications turned off, the phone going to voicemail, and you’ll find you get more done.

Yammer needs more work…

That’s clear. But there’s still a place for Yammer and Enterprise Social Networks, for those organizations who choose to communicate and discuss in different ways to traditional email.

I care less for the platform and more for the capabilities. Quoting from John Liu‘s response on Wictor’s post, Groups are the direction Microsoft are taking “carving out features that were once within silos and make them cross-product micro-services.” The micro-services are becoming more important and Groups are the mechanism for bringing those together. Groups are only going to get better. What part Yammer plays in this is still to be seen. We’re starting to see social features such as the @Mention and Like come to email experience. Likes are already part of Groups. The decision to implement these may in part be to recreate an Enterprise Social experience in email. If the extent of Groups-Yammer integration is just to provision a Yammer Group when an Office 365 Group is created, I don’t think that is enough.

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