Posey's Tips & Tricks

Yammer Finally Grows Up

Microsoft is increasing the integration hooks into Yammer that connect directly to Office 365.

When Microsoft first rolled out Yammer as a part of Office 365, the experience left a lot to be desired. Sure, Yammer was a useful app, but I couldn't shake the feeling that Yammer had been quickly bolted onto Office 365 and rushed to market so that Microsoft could begin recouping its Yammer investment as soon as possible. The end result was a misfit app.

Yammer did not look or feel like the other Office 365 apps, nor was it well integrated into Office 365. There was a lot of native functionality within Yammer that duplicated capabilities that already existed elsewhere within Office 365. This wouldn't have been a problem, except that Office 365 subscribers typically already had data associated with those features, and probably expected that data to be exposed through Yammer. For example, Yammer has its own dedicated user mailboxes, even though Office 365 users have an Exchange mailbox.

Over the last couple of years, Microsoft has been working hard to seamlessly integrate Yammer into Office 365. For example, there is now significant integration between Yammer and SharePoint, and Yammer no longer has to open in a separate browser window. More recently, Microsoft has introduced significant additional improvements to Yammer. While there is still some room for improvement, Yammer is finally beginning to feel like a mature product.

I'm not going to attempt to rehash the entire document that I linked to in the previous paragraph, but I do want to weigh in on a few of the new capabilities that I personally see as being significant.

Although easy to overlook, one of the new yammer features that I see as being especially useful is dynamic groups. Dynamic groups have existed in applications such as Exchange Server for many years, but they are new to Yammer.

As I'm sure you know, there are various types of groups, but at their core, groups are really just lists of users. A distribution group (or distribution list) is a mail-enabled group. Messages that are sent to the group's e-mail address are sent to every user who is a group member. Likewise, security groups are used to grant access to resources such as files, folders and applications. Users who are members of a security group get access to all of the resources that the group has been given access to.

As useful as groups are, however, managing group memberships can be a lot of work. There isn't usually too much effort involved in setting up group memberships, but group maintenance is often problematic. If a user changes departments, for example, it may be a while before anyone thinks to remove the user from the groups that they no longer need access to.

Dynamic groups are different in that they are based on rules rather than on static memberships. They give administrators an easy way of ensuring that users always have access to the correct groups, but without constantly having to manually manage group memberships.

Another welcome new feature is the ability to pull content from third party sources directly into Yammer conversations. As you can see in Figure 1, there is now a link within Yammer to a Yammer-specific app store. You can use this app store to download tools that link Yammer to various apps, as well as social media sites. For example, you might tie Yammer into Dynamics CRM or perhaps Zao.

One more Yammer improvement that is definitely worth mentioning is that Microsoft has expanded Yammer's support for inline videos. Yammer users have long had the ability to post YouTube videos, and videos from a couple of other well-known video sharing sites, but Microsoft has finally added support for Office 365 Video and Microsoft Stream.

[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 1.

There are two reasons why I think that this is important. First, Office 365 Video is a part of Office 365, as is Yammer. I have been saying for quite some time now that the number one thing that Yammer needs if it is to be useful is better integration with other Office 365 apps.

The other reason why I see support for Office 365 video as being important is because Office 365 Video is used differently from the ways in which other video sharing sites are used. Namely, Office 365 video is typically treated as a corporate resource, and isn't usually shared with the world, as most YouTube videos are. Companies might, for instance, use Office 365 Video to host employee training videos, or perhaps video messages from the company's CEO. Now, Yammer gives users a portal for discussing these videos with one another.

Personally, I think that it's great that Yammer is getting so many new features. Yammer was initially so lacking that I didn't have a lot of hope for it, but it is nice to see Yammer evolving into a first class member of the Office 365 suite.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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