Inspired by Twitter and Facebook, it’s a business-focused social networking tool designed to increase communication while decreasing email traffic. Launched on stage at TechCrunch50 in September 2008, it’s now used by such corporations as Xerox, Disney and the BBC.
Why is there a need for a tool like this that’s aimed specifically at businesses?
Every company I’ve ever worked for, especially big companies, nobody knows who anybody else is. The bigger the company is, the harder it is to learn who your co-workers are and to understand what other people may be working on. So we saw a need for something that would enable better communication and collaboration within an enterprise. And we do that by applying what we learned from the consumer internet space. In people’s personal lives, they can use these great sites like Facebook and Twitter to stay in touch with their friends. And then, when they get to work, all the tools seem to be really archaic and hard to use. We just thought that the software you use at work should be a lot more like the software that you get to use in your personal life.
Could you give a couple of specific examples of how Yammer improves internal communication?
Someone wrote a blog post about how, as a new employee at a company, they got tremendous value out of the Yammer. Because, before Yammer, it would have taken them months to learn who everybody was at the company, what their expertise was and what they were doing. Yammer provided a way to catch up on the company water cooler-type conversation that had been going on over the past few months. We hear a lot that people like to move group discussions out of email into Yammer because they can really clutter people’s inboxes. So you move it into Yammer where you know you can find it if you want to. It gets archived and preserved for other employees to find it, who may have been left off of the initial distribution list. And it’s searchable, so the knowledge is retained and it becomes a knowledge base over time.
Do you think there’s the risk that it just adds to the amount of information being thrown at people, that it’s just more digital clutter?
Hopefully Yammer is a way to help manage all the information that’s coming at you. I think one of the dynamics right now is that people feel they’re not getting all the information they need but, also, their inboxes are overflowing. So I think people need a tool to help them manage all this information.
Yammer ties in with the concept of flat organisations, in which senior management is more closely connected to the rest of the work force. Is that sort of approach realistic for larger companies?
Yammer helps flatten companies in the sense that it allows information to flow more freely. But you don’t have to be a flat organisation to use Yammer. One of the features that we rolled out after launch was ‘groups’. So you can create a group for your department, your team and just have private conversations within those groups. That the company can ultimately decide who gets to see that information is a very important part of it as well.
Twitter recently announced that it’s preparing to offer an enhanced version to businesses who pay a fee. This is similar to Yammer’s model, isn’t it?
It depends exactly what they do. But what it sounds like is they’re going to have premium accounts to help companies manage their communication in terms of better analytics for figuring out who’s reading you and all that sort of stuff. I don’t think they’re moving into the enterprise space, per se. I think they’re trying to make a more robust version of what Twitter already is that companies will be willing to pay for. We don’t really see that as competitive to what we’re doing.
What long-term ambitions do you have for Yammer?
There are a lot of features that companies tell us that they want to help moderate and control their networks better. The other part of it is just is making Yammer an increasingly good substitute for email. There are still some things that email does very well. But what we want to do is extend the use cases for Yammer so that, over time, you’ll just use email for external communications or certain sorts of one-on-one conversations. We really want to shift all company group conversations into Yammer.
Do you think in the long run that social networks and microblogs will actually replace email?
I don’t know that they’re going to replace email in the sense that new technologies don’t necessarily completely replace old technologies. But we want to cut the amount of email that you get in half so that your email inbox becomes more useful to you. We want to get rid of all those replies to all and those distribution list emails and move them into a tool that really excels for that purpose. So I don’t know that we’re going to completely replace email. But we want to at least replace a decent chunk of it.
David Sacks, Yammer CEO
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