Should Yammer Really Be Called Crammer?

Have you heard? Yammer is Twitter for corporations. On Monday it launched. On Wednesday, it won TechCrunch50′s top prize. By this morning, Yammer was reporting it had signed up 10,000 people from 2,000 companies. This afternoon, the great Dan Fabulich of Redfin asked if we could start using it.3037015813m.jpg

Of course, Dan was only being polite: the appeal of Yammer’s business model is that anyone can start using it (Redfin only has to pay to control it). And even if I’d said no, another Redfin employee would have started using it anyway.

So I said yes. And then thought: what does this mean? And what have we done? 

What Does Yammer Mean?
What Yammer means to me is first that there’s a new model for selling enterprise software, and it resembles nothing more than George Soros’s efforts to undermine the Soviets by air-dropping fax machines behind the Iron Curtain: tools are downloaded and used, with executives & IT only later having to accommodate the facts on the ground. The whole question of whether Yammer is actually productive is beside the point, because it’s so easy and fun.

Yammer also means something more, that email is broken: overwhelmed with spam, cumbersome to open, with responses feeling like an obligation rather than an option. If you want to deliver a message to someone, almost any other medium is more likely to get noticed: IM, Facebook, Twitter, RSS.

What Have We Done?
But the bigger question about Redfin’s use of Yammer is what have we done?

While I am glad to try a new technology — Dan is such a fearless pioneer — I worry that Yammer might be worse than work, and worse even than no-work. At least when you’re browsing ESPN.com, you feel bad about it. Yammer happens at work, and it sounds like work — you can always tell when someone is writing an email, IM or Twitter, because their typing is so much faster and noisier — so people think it is work, with one crucial exception: it may not get work done.

I’m not sure I buy the talk about collaboration. I’ve seen passive-aggressive arguments happen over email and (less over) IM — Skype’s workrooms are the exception; they’re awesome — that could have been avoided or settled in a few minutes face to face; will Yammer be much different?

As it is, I have elaborate fantasies about outlawing the whole Internet for hours at a time, or even for an entire workday. When I marvel at how a historical colossus like Theodore Roosevelt (definitive naval history of 1812, four-volume history of American frontier, a staggering number of slaughtered animals, U.S. President) or Honore de Balzac (dozens of coffee-fueled novels, written from midnight – 3 in the afternoon, while standing up) had time to accomplish so much, I usually attribute it to talent, servants — and no Internet.

Staving Off a Coup
But whether a shot at greatness is in anyone’s cards, I don’t have the guts to pull the plug on email, IM or Yammer for even a minute: there would be a coup, and Cynthia Pang would mount my head on a stake outside the Dexter-Horton building by the end of the day. I think a lot of executives who are asked about IM or Yammer agree to it for the same reason: they don’t want to seem like Scrooges or Luddites, and they’re not sure they could stop anyone anyway. And truth be told, we want our Yammer too.

Gentle reader and Dan Fabulich (who is, by the way, mutantly productive and far less curmudgeonly than I am) what do you think? Is Yammer good or bad for actually getting work done? Once we actually start using Yammer, we’ll report back on the results. Right now I’m not sure — but I’m excited to use it anyway.

(Flickr credit: soldiersmediacenter on Flickr)

Discussion

  • http://www.episodic.com Noam Lovinsky

    We’re a small team and we all sit in the same cavernous room with no cubes and no separations. We also sit in a common chat room that’s logged and searchable. On top of that, we’re all on IM for one on one conversations. I would argue that on average, all of these tools make us far more productive.

    Even though I don’t have to leave my desk to have a conversation with another engineer, it’s often far less distracting to just ask my quick question in the chat room or over IM. If it’s not something urgent, the person on the other end can respond when it’s most convenient for them and responding to any of the above mentioned medium requires far less effort than responding to email. I know it’s counterintuitive, but if used correctly, IM can actually reduce distractions during the day.

    There’s obviously still a need for face to face communication. None of these tools could replace a good session in front of a whiteboard, but these tools supplement face to face interactions and reduce the number of face to face meetings necessary to achieve the same goal.

    Obviously Yammer can be useful in the same way that daily stand ups are useful. It’s great to check in at the beginning of the day, listen to what people tried to finish yesterday, and discuss what we’re going to work on today. The problem with Yammer is that people can update too often with information that’s unnecessary (think Twitter). The same thing happens in daily standups, but there’s a little more peer pressure to get on with it and say something useful. Perhaps Yammer can achieve the sort of pressure if you know that your boss is reading your updates.

  • http://blog.redfin.com/blog/author/glenn%20kelman Glenn Kelman

    Seeing what you guys have accomplished at Episodic, you must be doing something right!

    And I agree that sometimes it’s nice to be asynchronous, but IM isn’t quite that — it’s hard to ignore. Anyway, every tool seems worthwhile in its own right — I use IM, email, even the Godforsaken Twitter for a reason — but I just tend to discount the true cost of each distraction.

    If I am working on something that requires serious thought, especially if it’s complex and requires a lot of data to be loaded into consciousness — it probably takes me five or ten minutes to pick up where I left off. I’ve noticed younger people can do that faster; I get better at it every year too.

    As for whether IM is faster, it probably isn’t faster than an office phone (if you’re in a large office) or calling out to the other person in a small office — most people can talk faster than type — but I think it’s more popular because you can do it while listening to music via headphones.

    If someone walked into an office from the year 1985, he would find it deeply weird that we were all wearing headphones. But it really changes how people communicate. It’s probably why you and i talk twice a week via IM and almost never over the phone.

  • Pingback: Reflection on Productivity « The Notorious R.O.B.

  • Eric

    I think this could be a good thing. I think it’s important that technology workers stay current. This includes staying current with applications that may not be directly related to the company their working for.

    In addition I think it’s a morale booster. Tech workers love to play with the latest and greatest, say no because it may be a productivity hit, albeit small, and you’re going to breed resentment.

  • http://darkforge.blogspot.com Dan Fabulich

    Thanks for your very flattering remarks, Glenn. For what it’s worth, I think you had more control here than you realize.

    I talked to a number of other engineers at Redfin before I e-mailed you; we were all kind-of afraid of Yammer, not for the social reasons you describe, but because it seemed risky to give a lot of information about our day-to-day development work to a third party.

    While I don’t think we have a lot of secret information here to steal, (mostly because we’re all pretty staunchly committed to openness and transparency) it seems like corporate espionage could also be a profitable business model for Yammer, if they decided to swing that way!

    More realistically, I fear the day when microblogging at work becomes mandatory. I think there’s a huge opportunity for micromanagement here, in a bad way.

  • http://blog.redfin.com/blog/author/glenn%20kelman Glenn Kelman

    You’re so gracious Dan! Regarding micromanagement: I worry about that too. Yammer could become like a huge panopticon.

  • http://bhc3.wordpress.com/ Hutch Carpenter

    So…you guys still Yammering? Hi Glenn.

    Hutch