Reviewing Yammer

A few months ago, I wrote about my experience watching on the PS3, and there seemed to be a pretty decent amount of interest in the subject. Today, I’m going to review a piece of technology that is not quite as baseball specific, but that we here at FanGraphs use everyday, and is probably something that anyone involved in cooperative writing projects should probably be aware of: Yammer.

What is Yammer? Their tagline refers to themselves as “the private social network for your business,” which is a pretty decent – if still vague and buzzworded – description of what the product does. I’d describe it more as a hybrid version of Facebook and Twitter to help assist in collaboration with your coworkers.

At its heart it’s a user interface that will be familiar to pretty much anyone who uses the internet nowadays. It is centered around a feed of messages from users you are connected to, which essentially acts as a place to share quick bits of information with numerous people without sending out an email. Earlier this year, we basically replaced our internal author mailing list with Yammer, and now use it to claim topics and discuss ideas for the site.

For this purpose, it’s great. No one really liked having their inbox bombarded with messages from R.J. telling us which Rays bench player he was going to write about, so now he just puts that update into Yammer, and we can all find out without that message clogging up our email. This single function has made the move entirely worthwhile, and it’s been a large asset in helping spur communication between our writers. That isn’t the only functionality they offer, however. It also offers the ability to upload files to be shared within the group, create profile pages for individual users with contact information (clearing up your bulky address book), build an organizational chart, and send private messages to specific users, though for various reasons, we don’t really make full use of many of those additional features.

Yammer offers access in three ways – through web login, a desktop application, and mobile apps. I have all three, but generally have found that I stick mostly to the web login. The desktop app is okay, but I hate having cluttered applications overrunning my screen, and I’ve found that it’s just too much for me to have both it and TweetDeck notifying me of new messages every few minutes. The mobile app has potential, but also has a lot of problems. It’s great to be able to access the feed from my phone, and push notifications are less intrusive than on the desktop application, but the software is simply riddled with bugs.

Trying to send a message through the Yammer iPhone app is hit or miss, with more misses than hits, honestly. It crashes more than any other app I have ever used, and repeatedly crashes when trying to submit a new message to the stream. This is obviously frustrating, and Yammer has released numerous updates to fix the issues, though they keep creating new problems with each update. The most recent update has significantly reduced crashing, but now also makes it so that reading the new messages in your feed does not eliminate the app’s suggestion that you have new messages. I see that there are two new messages to read, fire up the app, read them, and close it out, and yet, I still have two new messages.

I’d say this is a simple fix that I’m sure they’ll resolve soon, but having updated the app so many times, I’m now just wondering what else they’ll break in the process of fixing that issue. I’d love to use the iPhone app more often, but right now, it’s just not reliable enough, so I mostly stick to the web portal. The mobile app isn’t useless, as I still use it to read what others are talking about, but for updating my own status, I rarely attempt that anymore.

If you’re part of a company that is using an internal mailing list and you get annoyed at how many messages you find taking up your email, Yammer could be a great solution for that issue. It is great at accomplishing that one task. It is less great at everything else, and it probably won’t change your life, but it might make it somewhat easier to communicate with coworkers. For that reason, I give it a thumbs up. If they want the second thumb, they need to permanently fix their iPhone app.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Have only seen it demoed, but that sounds pretty similar to Google Wave.