Will Yammer improve SharePoint?

It's difficult to see how Yammer will improve SharePoint, or what value it will add for customers. It's just another tool in an increasingly chaotic Microsoft toolbox.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

"So what improvements do you see Yammer bringing to SharePoint?" I asked Aaron Levie, CEO of cloud collaboration vendor Box, at a dinner in London last week for the opening of the vendor's European offices. It was a tongue-in-cheek question, of course, as the deal was merely rumored at the time, and Levie's take was hardly going to be complimentary. Today, we learn that the deal has been done, and it makes as little sense now as it had seemed to a week ago. Yammer would be the "weird stepchild" in Microsoft's line-up, Levie said then. Perhaps it would make sense as a companion to Skype, he later added, but the likelihood of Microsoft doing anything as sensible as putting the two together seems remote.

This afternoon, we learn from Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer that Yammer's 'viral adoption model' is a big part of the value that it brings. I don't see what exactly the long-term owner of Hotmail and recent acquirer of Skype still has to learn about viral adoption models, except that it must have realised by now that giving the product away for free is a key component. I'm sure Yammer's management are mighty relieved they no longer face the problem of how to monetize that viral adoption in a meaningful way. But if that's the core value that Yammer brings to the Office suite, then I would be mighty worried tonight if I were a Microsoft shareholder.

The reality is that this is just the latest in a long line of Microsoft attempts to look cool in social. It's as insipidly inspired as the 2009 announcement of Outlook Social Connector, which added a 'People Pane' to your inbox, provided you upgraded to SharePoint 2010, downloaded the third-party connectors into the likes of Facebook, and successfully persuaded your IT department to install them for you. Good luck with that.

At least acquiring Yammer signals that Microsoft has realised its in-house skills at engineering this type of effortless social synchronization leave a lot to be desired. But beyond a happy end to the story for Yammer and a short-term boost to Microsoft's social cred and stock price, I can't see how this deal adds value for Microsoft customers. It's just another tool in an increasingly disparate and disjointed toolbox. The only saving grace is that, following the recent demise of the Windows Live brand, we won't have to endure it being rebranded 'Microsoft Windows Live Yammer'.

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