Yammer seeks to simplify enterprise social network usage with upgrade

Yammer wants to help end users better manage and act upon content and notifications in their enterprise social networks

Yammer has upgraded its cloud-based enterprise social networking software with new and improved features designed to make it easier for end users to manage their content.

The upgrades, which will be rolled out progressively to all users over the next two weeks, include a new content repository, appropriately called Inbox, for the multiple types of activity notifications users receive.

Instead of having to monitor a continuously updated activity stream, and risk missing important notifications that scroll by when they're not looking, users can review the Inbox, which corrals notifications so that they can be reviewed when it's convenient.

The Inbox will contain elements like direct messages, alerts about new replies on threads users are participating in or monitoring, and notifications about new content added to groups or online communities they belong to.

From the Inbox, users will be able to also take action on the notifications they see, including replying to messages and posting comments on discussion threads.

Yammer has also revamped the software's home page, displaying prominently notifications that are of particular relevance to users, such as files and pages that are being actively shared, viewed and discussed.

The new home page also features a section for key company content, such as important calendars, personnel manuals and the like, so that these resources are easily accessible to users.

"We want to make sure that the things you're looking at are relevant to you," said Adam Pisoni, Yammer's CTO.

The Yammer upgrade also adds a feature called Online Now that displays which user contacts are available at a particular moment and allows co-workers to engage in multi-party chats. This feature also archives conversations and makes them searchable.

Recently acquired by Microsoft for US$1.2 billion in cash, Yammer is one of many companies offering software that companies can use to create workplace social networks.

These enterprise social networks let employees do things like create profiles, do microblogging, follow colleague posts, share files, rate content, brainstorm and participate in online communities and discussion groups, among other things.

Microsoft has said that it will continue selling Yammer as a standalone product, while looking for ways to integrate it with its products. Yammer already has a level of integration with SharePoint, for example.

Pisoni declined to comment on integration plans with Microsoft products, but said that, whatever is decided, Yammer's software will retain its ease of use and its development team will continue to improve the product at a brisk pace.

For Gartner analyst Larry Cannell , the Inbox feature is the most interesting in this upgrade, because it offers users an alternative to the software's main activity stream.

"It's an interesting approach to enable people to deal with a high volume activity feed. The reliance on activity streams and the potential to overload it with messages is a concern expressed by many enterprises," Cannell said via email.

Yammer is also announcing several new partners that are integrating their products with Yammer's software, including Hootsuite, the social media dashboard application that lets people manage multiple accounts from a central interface.

Now, users will be able to view their Yammer notifications in Hootsuite, and also post and search for Yammer content from the Hootsuite interface.

Other new integration partners include MindFlash, Get Satisfaction and Mindjet. Yammer now has about 30 such partners.

"Yammer appears to be picking up the momentum for its partner application network, which customers will also appreciate. We expect 2013 to be the Year of The App Store for enterprise social networking providers," said Jim Lundy, an analyst at Aragon Research, via email.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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