Yammer, Twitter with muscles and brains

* Yammer is an interesting Web-based collaboration service

If there's one type of service that the Web really makes effective, it's collaboration systems. The combination of (theoretically) ubiquitous access with multiple additional communications channels (SMS, IM, etc.) makes the potential for integrating workgroups enormous.

One of the most interesting Web-based collaboration services I’ve looked at, Yammer, was launched in September this year. Yammer has been described as “Twitter for the enterprise” but that somewhat undersells what Yammer offers.

Unlike Twitter, Yammer creates closed workgroups – there is no public “face” to the workgroup’s messages. Yammer does offer a “what I’m doing” messaging service like Twitter, but not only is it not limited like Twitter to 140 characters, the service provides a lot more context for the people you engage with.

This context is defined when you join a Yammer workgroup. Yammer is domain oriented – when you sign up, your domain name becomes the criteria that ensures your workgroup’s privacy. In other words, only users with e-mail addresses in your domain can get access.

On joining you can create a profile defining who you are, your contact details, background (significant other’s name, kids’ names, your birthday, etc.), and biographical details. You can also add alternate e-mail addresses that aren’t in the default domain, SMS number and IM accounts for posting and getting updates, and place yourself in the group’s org chart (this isn’t graphical – it's simply fields defining who you work with, for, and who you manage).

You can follow other workgroup members (much like Twitter), and you can create groups which can be private (invitation only) or be open to any members of the overall workgroup. All personal and group feeds also offer RSS feeds. You can attach files to your postings (Yammers? Yams? Perhaps not.) and tag messages using Yammer’s markup tags (putting # before any word makes it a tag – that’s a cool feature).

Yammer workgroups are, as I noted above, private, but obviously they aren’t secure – for example, you can’t disable RSS feeds. A missing feature (and it is an odd one for Yammer to not include) is the ability to route Yammer postings to other social networks such as Twitter and Tumblr. The idea of being able to create, say, a PR group and then route their Yams to Twitter is a powerful one (although I daresay you could route a Yammer RSS feed to, say, ping.fm (I covered this service in a previous newsletter).

Yammer also provides applications so you can run a Yammer user interface as an Adobe Air application as well as natively on the iPhone and the BlackBerry. There’s also a very sophisticated RESTful API. In fact, you could easily use cURL or Wget (covered sometime ago in my Gearhead column) with the Yammer API to easily perform this task.

Yammer is free and doesn’t use advertising, but if you want to have administrative control (the ability to remove users and their postings, define password policies, restrict the IP address range of users, add a custom logo, and assign admin privileges to other users) it will cost you (drum roll, please) $1 per workgroup member per month. That is extremely reasonable for a unique service that offers tremendous value to organizations that “get” the concept and want to use social networking internally to augment or as the successor to their intranet.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.