Yammer and why activity streams are a key foundation for integrated applications and organizations


I caught up with some of the Yammer team this morning, including Chief Customer Officer David Obrand, while they are in town for the Yammer on Tour series. 

I was particularly interested in talking with them about Yammer’s shift to activity streams. In the massive convergence of enterprise social platforms that we’ve seen over the last years, one of the major emerging spaces is activity streams.

Last year I wrote about activity streams in the context of Tibbr’s launch. Tibbr put activity streams squarely on the map, by integrating status messages from people with notifications generated by enterprise software including ERP, CRM, and HR systems. Employees are able to follow their colleagues and they can also follow updates on any activity, including events, projects, or even invoices. Tibbr was very well positioned to do that given Tibco’s history in providing enterprise integration middleware.

Since Tibbr’s launch Salesforce.com’s Chatter product has developed its activity stream capabilities, and in fact now allows process steps to be taken from within the Chatter stream. Newsgator’s Social Sites product specifically integrates activities from across applications into streams, and Jive also has launched activity streams within its suite of products, among many moves from leading enterprise social software players.

Yammer is now playing in the activity stream space, putting itself forward as a horizontal layer that ties together a wide variety of enterprise software systems. The foundation for this integration is the Open Graph Protocol established by Facebook. Custom Yammer integrations into SAP and other enterprise applications have been built on top of open graph protocol. Integrations can be built to any contemporary enterprise application, though it is easier if they explicitly support open graph protocol.

While Yammer has long had open APIs, open graph protocol integration was only implemented 5 months ago. There was significant demand for external integration capabilities from its existing clients, which no doubt could see existing internal adoption of Yammer and wanted to build out its functionality beyond the purely social element. Currently external application integration is only done by clients after an initial social implementation, however the intention is to in some cases provide event streams from the outset of corporate implementations.

Interestingly, Yammer’s mantra in its external communication is ‘voluntary adoption’, saying among other things ‘voluntary adoption is the new ROI’. They point to how Yammer often takes off in organizations through inital (unpaid) user adoption that frequently flows through into (paid) corporate implementations.

The argument is that this provides is a far more powerful platform on which to provide access to activity streams than applications that are launched by the IT department. Of course even in the companies in which employees are the most enthusiastic about Yammer, there are still many who are not actively engaged, so if it does move to be a primary platform for work through its integration to enterprise software, slow adopters still need to be actively encouraged. 

One of the most encouraging aspects of the proliferation of activity streams from vendors is that they are all tending to open protocols and APIs. There is still unavoidably integration work to be done to create activity streams, however corporate adoption of one vendor’s activity stream does not necessarily mean lock in as the interfaces and hooks to the applications become more open.

In fact the rise of activity streams is an important platform in shifting to interoperable, readily integrated enterprise applications. Today a number of vendors are providing useful and valuable interfaces across the full range of individual and business process activities. More importantly, enterprise applications are now accessible in a way that is far more integrated and relevant to employees, providing a platform for more effective work and organizations moving forward (for those that choose to tap this opportunity).