The Trouble with Yammer

No Bias Against Yammer

Following my article speculating on how many people use the different Office 365 workloads, I was accused of bias against Yammer.

Well, I use Yammer every day, so any bias that I have doesn’t stop me using the product. In fact, I thought that Yammer did a sterling job as the platform for the previous generation of the Microsoft Technical Community. Yammer performed better and was easier to use than the current Lithium-based implementation. I also thought that supporting 80,000+ users was a practical demonstration of how Yammer can deal with very large organizations.

However, Microsoft decided that the lack of external search indexing of the content inside Yammer was a big factor that they needed, so they swapped Yammer out for Lithium.

I have no problem with Yammer (even if the name sometimes jars when applied as a “Yam” prefix). Deployed with knowledge, Yammer can be very successful within an organization, especially at enabling discussions and knowledge sharing across very large communities.

Splendid Isolation

If I do have a bias, it is born of frustration. When Microsoft bought Yammer for $1.2 billion in June 2012, Office 365 was a loosely connected set of mildly cloudified on-premises applications that had little integration with each other. Adding Yammer to Office 365 gave Microsoft the chance to offer a enterprise social networking product to customers. Lots of people, mostly Microsoft marketeers, were very excited.

Over time, Office 365 has become much more of a unified whole. The two cornerstone applications (Exchange and SharePoint) have become less of the center of their own universes and more of providers of basic functionality to other applications. The investments made by Microsoft in areas like data governance, search, retention, and Data Loss Prevention are engineered for the service and not for individual workloads.

Office 365 Groups are an important component in the unification of Office 365. Now used as a membership and identity service by many applications, Office 365 Groups is the foundation for Outlook Groups and Teams, both of which deliver collaboration spaces that invade Yammer’s domain. Yammer is more scalable than either Groups or Teams, but that doesn’t matter when these applications make better use of other Office 365 components and deliver what most organizations think they need.

Yammer Out on Its Own

While Office 365 has become more unified, Yammer has stayed on the periphery. Organizations who adopted Yammer before or soon after Microsoft bought Yammer have mostly continued to use it, but the growth in Office 365, which runs at about 3 million new users every month, is not seen in Yammer.

Part of the reason is that Yammer is another application for a tenant to deploy and manage. But more of the reason is because Yammer is so isolated from many important parts of Office 365. Sure, Yammer uses Azure Active Directory for authentication and Office 365 Groups for “modern” Yammer groups, but it is only recently that Yammer has moved to store files in SharePoint Online. And adding a Yammer feed for SharePoint sites is a nice advance, but it will not affect the way most Office 365 users work.

This is where my frustration lies. Yammer had a head start because it was within Microsoft for years before Office 365 Groups and Teams came along. As time passed, the Yammer developers could see the growing unification of functionality across Office 365. But Yammer remained splendidly isolated and failed to embrace and enhance Office 365 as it should have. The result is that Yammer content remains largely invisible to Office 365 compliance features. You can’t apply retention policies to Yammer or use sensitivity labels. You can’t include Yammer in eDiscovery searches or holds, which then makes GDPR harder to manage.

No Bias. Just Frustration

Am I biased against Yammer? I don’t think so. I am frustrated with Yammer. I don’t understand how Microsoft has let this application remain isolated for six years while Exchange and SharePoint have come together so well within Office 365. I don’t understand why the Yammer database is still used when ESE and SQL are available. I don’t understand why Yammer has not made the progress that it should have since 2012.

Yammer has new management. I listened when they laid out plans for change at Ignite 2018. What they want to achieve is good but making Yammer a fully-integrated application within Office 365 would be even better. And until that happens, I think it reasonable to keep on asking why Yammer persists on its own way.

We have some coverage of Yammer in Chapter 11 of the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook. Some Yammer aficionados have offered to write a chapter on Yammer. You never know when this might appear.

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