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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