Yammer And Other Virtual Workspaces Have Real Problems

One of the unexpected perks of starting work at ReadWriteWeb in December? No more Yammer.

This, of course, is more of a company culture problem than anything Yammer can control. Yammer continues to grow, and the enterprise social network space is where companies who are conceding truly social networking dominance to Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, will seek to grow.

That means more companies will be using or at least experimenting with enterprise spaces, and that means other firms in other industries may face the same growing pains we had with Yammer at Daily Dot, where I worked as a freelance writer before joining ReadWriteWeb.

Yammer is an enterprise social network and becoming increasingly popular for publishers to set up virtual newsrooms. While it has often been described as “Twitter behind a firewall” because of its use of hash tags, Yammer has more of a Facebook feel, in my opinion, down to being able to “like” messages left by co-workers.

At Daily Dot, Yammer was used to assign and claim stories, get feedback, request that a story be posted to the Web site and, occasionally, receive a semi-public tongue lashing from an editor (the justification I was given when I complained about having all of my idiosyncrasies discussed in front of my virtual co-workers was that, as a startup, everyone else could learn from my mistakes).

But, the occasional flame war with an editor not withstanding, the worst part of working on Yammer is the same as the worst part of socializing on Facebook: those emo-updates on Facebook from someone you haven’t spoken to in years about a recent breakup and baby photos of some half-forgotten high school friend often bury the important stuff. And on Yammer, that important stuff is often information you need to do your job properly. There is no virtual water cooler in Yammer, meaning all the idle chit-chat is happening in your virtual cubicle.

On more than one occasion this chatter meant an #editrequest would get buried and missed, meaning an editor would not see, read and post a story that would have otherwise beaten our competitors. Sometimes these requests got buried because of a legitimate flood of news; other times, however, they got buried because of a flood of #snaps (Daily Dot’s preferred hash tag for self-congratulatory chatter when a story got picked up by a bigger news outlet).

The other big drawback about Yammer? In my experience, it actually discouraged one-on-one communication.

ReadWriteWeb uses Skype, which has chat rooms that can be used for getting input on stories, discussing coverage and leads and, yes, going off on the occasional personal life update. But co-workers can also contact one another directly, either via instant message or voice, and that dramatically improves how people relate to one another. Daily Dot did use Campfire as a chat client, but it was another site to log into and if the person you needed to speak with wasn’t logged in when you were, you were out of luck.

Is Skype the perfect back-end enterprise solution? Of course not, nor is Yammer completely flawed. The big takeaway from all of this is no matter what system your firm implements, its has to be done thoughtfully and updated frequently until it is perfect, or at least less flawed.

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