Garbage In, Garbage Out

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For those of you who are not connected to me on Facebook, you may not have seen that I posted the picture to the right with a snarky response to Microsoft’s tagline: “Don’t let your next great idea get lost in someone’s inbox.” to which I replied “No, instead let your next great idea get lost in an untagged, ungrouped social stream.”

The Yammerfication of all Microsoft channels is in full swing. I’m not trying to beat up on Yammer – I actually really like the platform, and participate in multiple public and private networks on a daily basis. But what bugs me is the heavy-handed marketing push around Yammer without context. I think my comment nails the problem on the head: for those who believe moving your entire dialog will break down every data silo, think again. Social improves the story, but organizations that have no process, that tend to bury ideas, will find that moving to social only moves the problem.

Don’t believe me? Deploy Yammer within your enterprise and watch how, early on, people will create logical groups, tag up content. Then wait a week. That’s about how long it takes for people to create illogical, mostly redundant groups, and stop tagging content as they upload documents, share links, and comment. Give it a couple more days, and most people stop adding anything to the groups, with all content, links, and conversations happening at the root site. Want to tap into the wonderful search features? Hopefully the tags you need to find that relevant content were used somewhere along the way.

I’ve been writing a lot about the differences between structured and unstructured collaboration (Links will trickle in as the content goes live, so be sure to follow me at @buckleyplanet) with SharePoint representing structured (yes, it has unstructured capabilities, as well) and Yammer on the other end of the spectrum as the hottest unstructured collaboration solution on the market. The poster shown above, which is being posted across the Microsoft campus as a tool to encourage employees to use the platform, is a great example of the disconnect in messaging.  With unstructured and structured collaboration, it is not an either/or proposition. Organizations need a blended experience. Tools like Yammer, to be effective within the enterprise, must be connected to the structured experience if we are going to truly build a tool or environment where innovative ideas are not lost within our silos of information.

If I post an update on my Facebook page, people can read it and comment. I might respond. They may comment again, Like it, attach a link, a picture, or a file. I might @mention people or #tag the content within the body of my message. All of this interaction is unstructured. It is data that is stored unconnected to any taxonomy, project or site hierarchy, albeit with limited search value. Maybe someone wants to search for conversations around a person or a particular tag, but that is rare from an end user standpoint (most search is done on the back-end to position advertising). And who cares? You don’t expect Facebook to serve as an analytical business tool. It serves its purpose.

However, with SharePoint you *do* expect these interactions to tie into a broader body of content. I want to have the social dialog around my project documentation, but i want that conversation to be within context of my project, my team, my business activities. If I am a legal team, where eDiscovery is a core aspect of my environment, I want to have similar social interactions – but need that threaded discussion around my documents to be a part of my eDiscovery results. Simply adding a Yammer feed within my SharePoint environment does not meet my business needs – Yammer needs to be able to connect to and pull from my taxonomy, add to my folksonomy, and adhere to my governance rules.

I didn’t mean to get on a soapbox here, but obviously it is something at the top of mind, and messaging like the poster above is misleading – it fogs the underlying business need for unstructured collaboration engine atop a structured chassis, if you will. It’s why I was quoted by RedmondMag’s Jeffrey Schwartz as saying Microsoft’s social strategy was “clear as mud.” Unless the messaging gets cleaned up and points to a roadmap of integration, I predict a lot of angry customers one year from now looking to migrate off of Yammer into something with a few more rules and some structure.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.