Strong title, but if you asked Adam Pisoni, Yammer CTO and Co-founder, that's exactly what he will tell you. The future is, you guessed it, enterprise social networks and the cloud.

The Water Cooler Goes Virtual

There are two things employees do at a water cooler (aside from drinking the water):

  1. Talk about their life outside of work
  2. Talk about their work.

It's funny how those two things really can go together. And when technology supports the ability for employees to be both people and colleagues, innovation can happen. Now does that mean the enterprise social network is the answer? I think that depends on the question being asked.

Pisoni believes that the enterprise social network will subsume the intranet, but he said many of Yammer's customers are already there making Yammer the hub of the company. Why? Because the traditional intranet is a static paradigm and the world is slightly less static (okay more than slightly). Traditional intranets are one-way communication tools that don't encourage -- or often even support -- participation or collaboration.

Okay, I think everyone knows that the traditional intranet is pretty much a dinosaur and that changes are afoot, but does that mean the intranet is really dead and the social network is the new intranet? Pisoni says yes.

He says that the enterprise social network (ESN) enables employees to get work done, and it's self-organizing, which means groups can form naturally around common work and/or interests. But Pisoni's idea of an ESN is not your regular social network.

The New Intranet is the Cloud

Bet you weren't expecting that heading, but that is what Pisoni (and Yammer) believe. He says the new intranet is the glue that holds together all the cloud apps employees bring in to help them do their jobs. It needs to be both a layer across that helps people find the resources they need to do their jobs and a place to find and share information directly.

Today it's about social, content and the activity stream. Content means many things in this context including both official corporate and HR communications and work based information, as well as links to resources located elsewhere. The homepage is evolving as well, becoming a place where you find important company updates, relevant resources and also relevant information on work you are doing.

A Balancing Act

Pisoni believes that heavy content approvals are in the past, but where it's required, there are other tools to support those requirements. Which also means that Yammer isn't trying to replace your content management systems, but rather integrate with them and centralize the information you need within the ESN.

He says it's a balancing act between being prescriptive and top down, and adaptive and collaborative. With the functionality coming out in Yammer, they are trying to find the right mix. But he does believe that being too prescriptive quells innovation and keeps people from finding the best way to work.

What About SharePoint?

Yammer will not replace SharePoint for what SharePoint does, it's not an application development platform. The SharePoint platform contains a number of modules that make it suited for an intranet, but Yammer was designed and built specifically for many of these intranet use cases and at a much cheaper cost.

Pisoni says that Yammer has a fundamental belief that the customized intranet will go away. He believes that a highly customized solution is not adaptable or able to improve over time. This, he says, is why consumer applications/site are not customizable -- they need to change to suit the needs of an ever changing marketplace.

That doesn't mean he thinks SharePoint will go away, but it will more likely find its place building and supporting custom applications that meet specific needs. At that point it will essentially move it out of competition with ESN's like Yammer.

The Cloud is the Only Place to Be

According to Pisoni, the cloud has completely changed the development and distribution methodologies of software and Yammer has a fundamental belief that the cloud is the only place where you have have continuous improvement -- you can't do it behind the firewall. Without continuous improvement you won't be able to drive user adoption.

Yammer's approach is to measure the behavior of its users continually to know what's working and what's not. This allows them to constantly try new things. They do make mistakes, but they have the ability to change things quickly -- something that isn't so easy to do with on premises solutions.

What this doesn't mean though, is that you have new versions of Yammer coming out all the time. There is no such thing as an upgrade, or breaking existing modules or customizations. Yammer also doesn't offer all these switches to turn functionality on and off. You get it all, just like in consumer applications, which is why Yammer plans its functionality carefully, rolling out only the features that customers need to be successful.

This is why although social software vendors like Jive are competitors. Jive's fatal flaw (according to Pisoni) is their architecture and the inability to iterate quickly. Jive is slowly starting to move in the cloud direction, but they aren't there yet.

The Future of Yammer

When businesses choose Yammer, they are choosing the company and the direction. They aren't just choosing the product as it is today, but a new way of doing things that promises software that will work better.

Pisoni says that Yammer is meant to be a change agent -- that ESNs are still in their infancy, but it will help an organization truly empower employees in ways you would never see with a traditional intranet.

Where does Pisoni see Yammer in five years? He hopes it will be the near ubiquitous hub of a company. It will be the place where employees, partners and suppliers communicate and collaborate. It will live and breath and change with the company. He also hopes that Yammer as a brand will become synonymous with employee empowerment and adaptability.