A few weeks after Microsoft announced that it was buying Yammer, the business-oriented social network is testing out a new feature -- private chat.

With the new capability, Yammerers will be able to instant message other users in their group. A user can see who is available and then start up a private conversation with one or more compatriots.

Soft Opening

At the moment, Yammer told news media, the new feature is only being offered to a “small set” of users.

The new instant messaging feature will be called Online Now, and Yammer said that it is trying out various versions with small groups of users, along with different modifications to the user interface.

A Yammer spokesperson said that “analytics will then show how users are adopting the various feature versions,” after which the results will be used to roll out the best version. It is expected that the new feature will be released as an additional tab in the lower right hand corner of the Yammer screen.

Continuing ‘Pace of Innovation’

In its statement accompanying the announcement of its acquisition by Microsoft, Yammer said that its new parent is committed to “continuing the pace of innovation with Yammer.” In addition to private chatting, Yammer is also expected to be integrated with Microsoft’s Skype, SharePoint, Office 365 and Dynamics CRM.

In late June, Microsoft announced it was purchasing the four-year old Yammer for a reported US$ 1.2 billion, and would make it part of the Microsoft Office division. The move accelerates Microsoft’s efforts to keep up with the fast-moving competitive environment of social networking services for businesses. Salesforce, Oracle and others have also been busy acquiring social businesses and adding new social functionalities to their existing product lines.

Yammer said it has over 5 million corporate users, including employees at 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies. It provides a free private social network for employees, with paid premium versions available.