July 26, 2012

My (Delayed) Thoughts on the Yammer! Acquisition

As I'm sure every has heard by now, Microsoft purchased Yammer a few weeks ago. There was definitely some general surprise over the acquisition, but it seemed to me that initial impressions were very mixed. Some see the move as a smart strategic move for Microsoft, while others think they overpaid for over-hyped technology. Count me in with the latter group.

I've never liked Yammer. I find it to be a very unimpressive platform from a feature standpoint, and the UI is such a blatant rip-off of Facebook that it irks me every time I see it. But my main problem, despite it's common billing as Yammer's greatest asset, is the freemium model. There are two reasons for this:

The security concerns are real.
Users do join Yammer for free and start posting business material there, outside the corporate domain. Companies can then start paying Yammer for administrative privileges. That may sound brilliant as a sales strategy, but it's actually a nightmare. In some cases, companies aren't aware of Yammer, ignore it, or choose not to buy into it. In that case, the potentially sensitive content lives on in a relatively uncontrolled environment. I can still access the Yammer site for my last employer and read posts on things I probably shouldn't know anything about. Without AD-synchronization or anyone to go through and manually remove access to people who leave the company, this is a very serious risk. On the other hand, if a company decides to adopt Yammer, they suddenly find themselves with a new platform they hadn't budgeted for and may not even fit well with IT's overall strategy (social, cloud, or otherwise).

Yammer's userbase is horrendously overstated.
The stats - over 5 million corporate users across 85% of the Fortune 500 - are complete rubbish. Including the past employer I just mentioned, I am currently a member of five different Yammer networks. That means I count as five of the 5 million users. And I've never made a single post, which is actually pretty normal based on what I've witnessed in the networks I've joined.

What's also interesting to me is that with the unveiling of SharePoint 2013, we've now seen that Microsoft has been thinking about social for a while already. SP2013 will have microblogging, following, and badging out of the box. While Yammer certainly does more than this, that's got to be at least 90% of what members actively use. SharePoint isn't the only platform Microsoft will aim to integrate with Yammer of course, but it's the big one, and it's hard for me to guess which features Microsoft didn't think they'd be able to build into "Wave 16" on their own.

I do understand some of the reasons for the acquisition. Microsoft is obviously trying to get more social, and that's what Yammer is all about. In addition, this eliminates the risk of Yammer emerging as a serious competitor in the document management or business productivity spaces. Heck, maybe they just felt the need to make a splash to regain some credibility in the enterprise social arena, where Chatter seems to be stealing all the attention these days. I also realize that not all Yammer networks are as dead as the ones I've been a member of; they do have some real customers.But in my mind, Microsoft just paid $1.2 Billion (that's a lot of money) for a rapidly growing desert.

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