Yammer: Twitter for the Enterprise

As a member of the Blog Council, one of the benefits we get is opportunities to learn from colleagues at larger organizations. Another is a chance to be on conference calls like the one we had today with David Sacks, CEO of Yammer.

Yammer is Twitter for the enterprise, and seems to have a business model that could enable it to have more consistent uptime than the site with the Fail Whale. It’s free at first for anyone who wants to join, but if the company wants to take over admin rights for the network, the cost is $1/member/month.

I don’t know whether that pricing model will work with the really large organizations (there have to be some volume discounts if you have thousands of employees), but based on my less-than-a-day experience with Yammer (I joined during the Blog Council call) and its recent TechCrunch50 showing, I think it has a good shot of getting acceptance.

Significant advantages:

It’s not a force-fed “The company has bought this nifty networking software, and we want you to use it” solution. When I started an account by entering a work e-mail address (I was user #1 in the mayo.edu domain), I was asked “Who do you work with?” and invited a few close colleagues. We now have 16 members, as the process has continued. If people find it useful and it continues to grow, the company can take responsibility for the network (and the associated costs.) But at that point it would be a viable, ongoing network. It wouldn’t be starting flat-footed. So you only pay if it’s successful.

The interface is really clean and simple. When you join Yammer, you get an e-mail asking you to confirm your e-mail address. But when you invite colleagues by e-mail (they all have to be in the same domain), their act of responding saves them having to do the confirmation step. The fact that they got your invitation proves that they are part of your company.

You can follow (as in Twitter) certain people whose job function or work interests are similar to yours. You also have access to everyone’s updates through the company-wide timeline.

You can use tags to group updates, and can “follow” those tags. So if you want to create a list of blogs, for example, you could do an update like this:

Lee Aase has a great blog on social media at SMUG. The URL is http://social-media-university-global.org/ so it should be part of our #blog-list on #social-media. The #facebook curriculum is particularly interesting.

That’s just a hypothetical example, of course. 😉

But then you would have the start of a list of blogs that would be searchable for anyone within your organization. I would think for PR firms or departments, this could be a great way to crowdsource a list through your own employees.

When someone leaves the company, either the admin can remove her access or any coworker can request that she reconfirm her e-mail account.

For small businesses in particular, Yammer seems like a great way to get everyone on the same page.

Concerns:

Security. Any time a business has employees putting data outside the corporate firewall, there will be privacy and data security concerns. If the Yahooligans could get Gov. Sarah Palin’s private e-mails and post them to the Internet, it could happen to one of your employees.

The answer to that is: Your business isn’t nearly as interesting as Gov. Palin’s. As I’ve said with my advice on secret Facebook groups, don’t put information on these platforms that could lead to severe financial loss or criminal prosecution if it were disclosed. But the overwhelming majority of the things about which you collaborate in your company just aren’t that compelling that anyone would want to hack them.

If word somehow leaked that SMUG is on your company’s list of must-read blogs, it could cause embarrassment, I suppose. But it wouldn’t bring AIG-style financial ruin.

I’m looking forward to giving this a run, and I’ll post on what we learn.

Update 9/18/08: Yammer released an API last night so it can be incorporated into other desktop clients like Twhirl. That will let people use one interface to chat within the company on Yammer while they also use Twitter externally. This post on TechCrunch also has a link to a Yammer demo.

Meanwhile: has anyone else had experience with Yammer? I’d love to hear your impressions.

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Top 3 Facebook Chat Feature Requests

Facebook‘s Chat functionality is really great. My youngest daughter, a big IM user, thinks it’s the best and easiest one she’s seen, and she loves how it is integrated into Facebook. I’ve had several conversations with it in just its first day of general availability.

That said, it still needs some features that would make it exceptionally powerful and valuable for business networking. Here are my top three:

  1. Move from only 1-1 chat to allowing chat among multiple Facebook friends. This would enable work teams to have brief virtual ad hoc meetings on a particular tactical topic without the overhead of scheduling, walking to the conference room, waiting for everyone to assemble, and returning to their desks. This could enable more nimble reactions to business opportunities. In the PR world, it could be a great brainstorming tool for story ideas. It also would make it easier to get input from the people who are typically more reserved and quiet in face-to-face meetings.
  2. Enable chat to take place in connection with Facebook groups. So, for example, if I have a secret Facebook group and would like to have a chat in which all of the members can participate, whether they are Friends with each other or not, that would be a valuable function, particularly in the work setting. This could be great for customer focus groups, for instance.
  3. Enable users to filter their list of on-line friends according to their friend lists. This may not be a big deal unless you get lots of friends and they are all on-line a lot. But I can imagine that Scoble with his 5,000 friends would have something of a cluttered window. But still, since you can search by friend name to find whether someone is on-line, the clutter may not be a problem if you are purposefully seeking out a particular individual. If you’re browsing your on-line friends looking for small-talk, though, being able to filter (say, for instance, by limiting to your list of professional friends) would be cleaner.

How about you? What do you think of Facebook’s Chat function? What additional features are most important to you? Share your thoughts below…and maybe we can form a Facebook group to petition for our top priorities.

Facebook Chat Will Enhance Business Utility

Now that Facebook‘s Chat function seems to be officially out of Beta and is deployed everywhere (if it’s on my network, it must be everywhere), I got a chance to try it today.

I haven’t been a big user of IM (Check that: at all.) This is completely new to me.

But I can see how Chat will be a strong addition that will make Facebook even more valuable for business networking, as Adam indicates. I think of it particularly in a PR/Journalist relationship. If you can see whether your journalist friends are on-line and can send them a quick message, that will be less interruptive than a phone call. If you continually send them worthwhile news tips or ideas, you can solidify the relationship. If you start abusing them with off-target pitches, they can un-friend you…or block you. It’s one more way Facebook can put the “relations” back in media relations.

I think this also has obvious applications for workplace collaborations…the ability to have conversations that are much more informal, back and forth, without the ponderous formality of e-mail.

“Can’t you just pick up the phone instead?” Of course. But just as my middle daughter (in particular) uses SMS text messaging to connect with her friends (and don’t get me started on how far she went over her monthly allotment of 300 in March) instead of getting into a long conversation, sometimes a more terse interaction is appropriate in the business world, too. And Facebook Chat could be a great way to do this.

In fact, I had a nice conversation with my son-in-law, Kyle, via Facebook Chat this morning (see above); I saw he was on Facebook and had the pleasure of introducing him to this new feature. Would I have thought to pick up my cell phone and call him? Highly unlikely. But when I saw he was on-line, we were able to have a chat that didn’t take a lot of time, but let us touch base.

I think Chat will likely cause me to keep my Facebook status more regularly updated, too. And I like how well Chat and Messaging are integrated. I was called from my desk during my chat with Kyle, and by the time I returned he had signed off. So instead of continuing the chat, I was given an option to send him a message in Facebook. This is a great way of blending the rapid interactivity of Chat with the asynchronous tools already built into Facebook.

Here’s a good Facebook Chat FAQ that outlines some of the current features for those of you who, like me, haven’t been IMers.

I hope you’ll try out Facebook Chat, and if you see I’m on-line, start a conversation. If you’re not my friend yet, you can add me here, and I’ll make you part of my Blog Friends list.

Which leads me to a set of feature requests and enhancements that would make Facebook Chat a really strong business networking tool. That will be the subject of my next post.