Last week Microsoft posted a blog highlighting their progress in integrating Yammer with SharePoint and Office 365. What I found most interesting is how widely this update was reported as new information. Perhaps the implications of Microsoft’s plans for Yammer were lost in the flood of news coming out of the SharePoint Conference last fall. It could also be a case of “selective listening,” where many pundits only read or heard what they expected and are just now noticing the extent of the changes coming. To be fair, Microsoft also has some culpability in this confusion.
Regardless, the question many enterprises are now asking is: Will Yammer replace SharePoint’s newsfeed?
First, a disclaimer. The thoughts provided here should not be construed as a recommendation to use either SharePoint or Yammer. There are many good enterprise social network (ESN) products on the market. I am simply sharing my thoughts about where Microsoft’s social software toolset appears to be heading.
The short answer to the question above is yes, Yammer will eventually replace SharePoint’s newsfeed. Explaining this can get confusing because Microsoft tends to co-mingle two separate SharePoint products: SharePoint running in the cloud and SharePoint software that you can run on your own servers. To simplify this, let’s call SharePoint running in the cloud “SP-cloud” and SharePoint software you run on your own servers “SP-software.”
Yammer is Microsoft’s Long-Term Direction for ESN services
By now, it should be clear that Yammer is Microsoft’s preferred social network experience going forward for both SP-cloud and SP-software. Long-term, I expect Yammer to become the only social network experience available on SP-cloud. However, the fly in the ointment is Microsoft’s insistence that Yammer will remain available only via the cloud and will not be offering an on-premises version of the service. In other words, there is no need to distinguish Yammer-cloud from Yammer-software. Yammer-cloud is the only option, at least for now.
SP-cloud runs on SP-software
Long-time observers of Office server products will note that this runs counter to Microsoft’s strategy of running Office 365 using the same software that it sells to customers. SP-cloud runs on SP-software. Both SharePoint options have their strengths. For example, some scenarios (such as partner collaboration) are easier to accommodate with SP-cloud. However, in order to scale SP-cloud, Microsoft narrows the types of customizations allowed. SP-software’s strength is its customization, something Microsoft has encouraged for years. You can look for other differences in this TechNet article.
For Yammer, this hasn’t been the case. “Yammer-cloud” is the only option, and this is not likely to change any time soon. If you attended the “Yammer’s Secret Sauce” session at the SharePoint Conference, you heard the reasons why. In short, Yammer cannot easily be repackaged as installable software; at least not without destroying the essence of Yammer (as a product and how it is developed). Cloud is part of everything the Yammer team does. Product changes are tested on limited audiences to measure their effectiveness before being released to all customers. The Yammer service is built on an infrastructure that juggles an almost constant state of flux to facilitate the roll-out and testing of new features or changes. I am not judging whether this is good or bad. This is just how it is.
This means if you want to provide an ESN on your intranet and you cannot use cloud services, then the only option Microsoft can offer is SharePoint 2013’s newsfeed. SharePoint 2010 has a primitive activity stream (as part of its My Sites feature), but it hardly qualifies as an ESN. Of course, you can also use a software-based product from a different vendor. These options include NewsGator Social Sites, Jive, or IBM Connections, to name just a few.
SharePoint 2013’s newsfeed is NOT the same as Yammer
At a certain level, Yammer and SharePoint 2013’s newsfeed are similar in presentation and the types of services they offer. However, after using the two products for a few minutes, it becomes clear that they are quite different in subtle but significant ways. It makes no sense to assume that Microsoft will allow these differences to live on.
All of this begs the following questions:
When will Microsoft enable a Yammer-like experience for SP-software?
For SP-software customers willing to use Yammer cloud services, Microsoft provides a Yammer/SP-software integration package today. For a number of enterprises, this integration may be sufficient for some time. However, to provide a more seamless experience between SP-software and Yammer-cloud, Microsoft said that later this year they would “provide guidance for replacing the SharePoint newsfeed on-premises with Yammer” [emphasis added]. For most enterprises, simple guidance will not be enough. They will expect to have the same flexibility and ease of administration as SP-cloud (in the same post, Microsoft announced they would be providing SP-cloud customers a choice of Yammer or SharePoint’s newsfeed as a configurable option this fall). However, given how deeply SharePoint 2013’s newsfeed is baked into the SharePoint platform, enabling this same level of integration within SP-software may require a significant (perhaps major) software release.
To serve enterprises that are unable to use cloud services, Microsoft has not announced any formal plans to deliver a Yammer-software solution. They have also stated that Yammer will not be ported as a software solution. Therefore, I expect Microsoft will eventually change SP-software’s newsfeed to mimic Yammer. Regardless of how Microsoft does this (create a port of Yammer-software, change SP-software’s newsfeed to mimic Yammer or perhaps create a new piece of software), enterprises should expect SP-software’s native newsfeed experience to change at some point. This too is not a trivial change and may require a significant (perhaps major) software release.
How long will SharePoint 2013’s newsfeed (just released by Microsoft) be available?
SharePoint 2013’s newsfeed will likely be available for a number of years. However, do not expect it to receive any new features because Yammer is Microsoft’s preferred social network experience for SP-cloud and SP-software.
How comparable will a Yammer-like SharePoint newsfeed be to Yammer-cloud?
Assuming Yammer’s “secret sauce” data-driven approach to cloud-based software development works, then it follows that the continuously tuned Yammer-cloud experience will be more effective and up-to-date with popular social media than Yammer-software. In addition, Microsoft seems to be motivated to keep the Yammer-cloud experience better than a Yammer-software solution, given their preference to sell enterprises cloud-based solutions.
Where you can learn more
However, the ESN experience is just one of the challenges enterprises face when trying to understand how to position Yammer with SharePoint and other Office components. You can learn more about these other challenges by listening to my SharePoint/Yammer webinar. A free recording of it is here. There is no charge for the recording, but registration is required.
Here is a list of research covering SharePoint and Office 2013 available to Gartner for Technical (GTP) subscribers:
If your company is a Gartner customer, you may already be able to access this and other GTP reports. To see if you do, contact your company’s Gartner Membership Administrator. If you do not know who that is, ask Gartner