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Yammering On

Microblogging may be most useful networking tool for business


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E-mail works well for one-to-one communications or even for one time distribution to a large group. But it quickly becomes frustrating when extended conversations take place between multiple parties. The signal-to-noise ratio rapidly declines as your inbox fills with dozens of incoming replies, many of which often don’t even concern you. The messages that do contain relevant information or important attachments can be easy to miss. Filing them away in some sensible manner consumes much time and then trying to find the right one when you need it becomes another exercise in exasperation.

 

When I first tried Twitter, I just couldn’t see how it would be useful for me. It seemed like a way for people to waste time by repeatedly broadcasting trivial life details or inane sound bites. Do I really care that you’re having sushi for lunch? Or that you’re sad because it’s raining again today? This is just more noise, less signal.

It took me awhile to figure out that frivolous chatter is not what’s important about Twitter. The real innovation is that they created a novel communications channel that is not based on a one-to-one, send/receive model like e-mail. Users can choose what they want to receive from a vast selection of sources, constructing a personalized stream of information they value. This new microblogging pipeline is designed for one-to-many messaging using a publish/subscribe convention. And these concepts directly address the e-mail flaws described above, enabling a way to reduce the noise and boost the signal.

While Twitter may be very useful for enterprises to monitor consumer sentiments and manage outbound messaging, other startups have used the same model to build services with features aimed at internal applications within companies and other organizations. 

 

 

One of the leading applications is called Yammer, which is described as a private “Twitter for the enterprise” that is only accessible by folks within your organization or by special invite. While it maintains a microblogging model as the core of the service, it more resembles an online forum. Nested discussion threads provide quick reviews of all posts and replies; documents and files can be easily attached to posts. You can have separate groups for your departments or projects with a great deal of control over who has access to which conversations.

I’ve been using Yammer to collaborate with colleagues in several groups, and despite my initial reservations, I have found that it is a truly valuable complement to e-mail. By using Yammer to communicate about our projects, I’ve eliminated a significant percentage of message traffic from my inbox. Instead of a messy tangle of e-mails, I see a neat and organized discussion thread recorded within a real-time stream in Yammer.


 

I’ve found that these fast and informal messages help everyone see who is working on what and quickly determine their current status. It’s also much easier to review what’s happened over time on a project and put your hands on related documents. Other companies have reported that this promotes stronger connections between distributed workgroups and teams as free-flowing information allows workers to collaborate, to share, and to understand what others are doing.

Yammer is delivered as a SaaS (software as a service) product. They offer a free, basic product, but companies can choose to gain features and controls through paid subscription options. There are a growing number of similar micro update services (such as Present.ly, Producteev and Wizehive) that offer varied features and capabilities that may appeal to different organizations.

Roman Lubynsky is a technology consultant based in Boston. A frequent speaker and writer on technology topics, he has an MS in Management of Technology from MIT. Roman can be reached at roman@lubynsky.com.

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