Yammer Acquires oneDrum To Enhance Collaborative Experience

April 11 2012 02:00:00 PM Comments Disabled
While Enterprise Social Networks like Yammer, Jive, Socialtext and others are trying to evolve the way people work by improving sharing and collaboration, it's quite common to hear that adoption rates of these new tools are still low. To combat this issue, the current mantra chanted endlessly around the industry is "integrate social into your business processes." But what does that really mean? For many people those business processes still require operating in a Microsoft Office-centric fashion in order to get work done.

Today Yammer took a big step in bridging the old and new styles of work by acquiring UK-based oneDrum, who's software enables the real-time co-authoring of Microsoft Office documents as well as the synchronization of files across multiple devices. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but this is a good indication that Yammer will be using some of the $85 million they recently raised (total funding to date $142M) to fill in gaps in their existing portfolio.

Earlier this week I discussed the acquisition with Adam Pisoni, Yammer Co-founder & CTO and Jasper Westaway, CEO and Co-Founder of oneDrum. Adam told me that "Yammer's mission is to bring social networking into the enterprise, and make Yammer a tool people use to work."

Summary Of Key Integration Features
  • Files stored in Yammer groups will have matching folders created on people's computers and files will synchronize between the two locations
  • Colleagues will be able to co-author documents at the same time and see each others edits immediately

Last year Yammer added file sharing to their platform, enabling colleagues to store and collaborate on files within Yammer instead of via email. The files are organized based on the group they are shared with, where groups can represent specific departments like Sales, Marketing or Development; or cross functional teams for projects like product development or an upcoming event. What oneDrum does is replicate the structure of those groups down to people's hard drives, placing a new folder for each group in the person's My Documents folder. The files in the Yammer groups will then synchronize with those folders.

In some ways this is similar to the file synchronization features offered by companies like Box and DropBox. However, with Yammer/oneDrum the organizational structure of the files is already setup via the Yammer groups. This should make it quite simple for people to post and share files without having to worry about setting up or maintaining access control lists. It will also make it easy for people to drag and drop, or "save-to" those folders on their computers and have the files shared with their colleagues in Yammer. However, not everyone is going to want to have access to a large amount of files on their local computer. For people that like the idea of "working in the cloud", the automatic synchronization to their computer will be an unwanted use of network bandwidth and harddrive storage. Jasper tells me that after the initial release they will be working on ways to provide granular controls over which folders/files are synchronized or not.

In addition to file synchronization, oneDrum also offers real-time co-authoring of documents similar to the way Google Documents works. For example, multiple authors can be creating a Word document or editing values in an Excel spreadsheet. As changes are made the edits are reflected instantly on the screens of the other authors.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out inside of Yammer. With Google Docs, there is no local version of the document that requires synchronization. Instead, all the authors are actually editing the same web page, so no one ever sees out of date information. But what happens when multiple people are editing their local versions of a document stored in Yammer, then a new person comes along and views that file on the web? Will they see the latest updates? In other words, how is version control handled? Does every single edit create a new stored file in Yammer, or is there some threshold that publishes a new version from time to time as multiple authors are editing a file?

According to the oneDrum website, real-time editing is not available to Mac users. Both Mr. Pisoni and Westaway assured me that Mac support will be available, but I'm unsure if that meant in the initial release. That brings me to an important point about the way Yammer operates. Yammer believes very strongly in releasing minimum viable versions of new features in order to get them out to customers quickly, then improving features in subsequent releases.

After working at IBM for more than a decade and hearing jokes such as "first to invent, last to deliver" I can appreciate Yammer's style of quickly releasing features. However, I feel that minimum viable versions of features can often lead to bad first impressions, and we all know how hard those are to change. For example, when Yammer first released Pages you could not even delete them. Still after many months of releases you can not control fonts nor add tables, images, etc. This has lead many people I know to use other tools to create their content and it will take a lot to convince them to switch to Yammer. I fear the same thing could happen with oneDrum if they don't get the initial set of features right. While I don't want the product to stay in development-limbo for months before being released, I do think they need to provide things like folder level synchronization control as soon as possible. I for one belong to many Yammer groups that I like seeing status updates from, but I don't want their files on my local machine. I guess you could say I'm a fan of medium viable product instead of minimum.

Additional Infomration About Yammer & oneDrum
  • oneDrum will no longer be available as a stand-alone product, it will only be a core feature of Yammer. This should not affect many people, as oneDrum is currently only a beta and did not have an existing paid customer base.
  • To use these new features you must install a Java app on your machine. This may be a problem in some enterprise environment.
  • Yammer has yet to determine if this new functionality will be available to freemium customers or only to paid premium customers.

Other Items On Yammer's Roadmap
  • Dramatic improvements to their mobile clients, enabling people to access not only the activity stream (status updates) but also Pages and Files.
  • The ability to link to files stored in Box, Google Docs and SharePoint. This sounds similar to the functionality offered today by competitors such as Podio.
  • Improvements in the activity stream geared towards making it easier to discover content.
  • Universal search across multiple enterprise applications (ex: data stored in SharePoint or SAP)
  • Improvements to the Yammer home page that will make it easier to permanently link to important announcements or company resources. (think "basic-Intranet")

MyPOV On What This Means For Yammer Customers
  • Overall I think today's acquisition is a good move for Yammer and their customers. As I said at the beginning of this post, many people still rely heavily on Office documents as part of their daily workflow. The combination of Yammer and oneDrum will make it easier for them to share, edit, comment, Like and discover those files. People will be able to easily drag and drop files (not limited to MS Office formats) to folders on their computer, have those files uploaded to Yammer and shared with the other members of the group. When a document is updated, authors can be confident the versions of the files their colleagues have will also be updated, so no one will be working with out of date content. However, as I mentioned above, I belong to several groups who's files I don't want taking up space on my computer. For example, I don't need local access to the recordings of all our team meetings nor the videos of my colleagues research projects.
  • This functionality is not unique. Competitors such as Jive offer similar integration which they obtained via the acquisition of Offisync in May 2011. Box, DropBox and other "file sharing" vendors are also hard at work on improving their collaboration and sharing features. For example, Box has recently announced Box OneCloud which via integration with Quickoffice makes it simple to edit Microsoft Office documents from your tablet.
  • I'm concerned about what this means for the roadmap of Yammer's native page functionality, which today is quite limited. Will their resources be focused more on the integration of Office, Google Docs, etc. or will they continue to add and enhance the features of their own editor.
  • The collaboration space can be quite a confusing one for customers as vendors from each corner of the IT infrastructure are expanding their original feature sets. Collaboration tools are becoming content management tools and content management tools are adding social features. As more and more choices are being presented to employees training, rules and best practices become increasingly important and costly. Customers must make some decisions early on about which features they want to use from each vendor or they will quickly find productivity in worse shape then when they started.

Clearly, Yammer has made several important improvements over the last few quarters to help them move from being just a "Twitter for the enterprise" to a more fully featured collaboration platform. I like Adam's vision of making Yammer a place people go to get work done, and with their recent growth funding Yammer should have the resources they need to execute on that plan. As a user of Yammer myself, I look forward to testing out these new features with my colleagues as soon as I can.