The Heterogeneous Intranet

A few weeks ago, Yammer took hold in my organisation. From a standing start 18 months ago with just me, we gained tens of users in 2 weeks at the beginning of the year and growing quickly. (Aside: those first few years of Yammer were rather boring for me. It really was an anti-social media site).

As an intranet professional, this grow in use is both exciting and alarming. On the positive side, it clearly demonstrates a business need and desire for more informal internal communication and collaboration channels. Our employees have embraced Yammer which bodes well as intranets continue to evolve their social functionality.

There are downsides though.

Yammer does not belong to my company. The comments we add, the information we share and the ideas that we develop are not on our servers and are subject to Yammer’s rules. And whilst Yammer is free, will it always be free? Are our employees forming a habit that will become costly in due course? There are plugins which fully integrate Yammer into a corporate intranet but it remains an external tool. (Aside: I do wonder if Yammer has been popular in my company because it’s one of the few social media sites that is not routinely blocked by our firewall software).

When I asked about this on Twitter, the responses I got were very interesting. . Many saw Yammer as a complimentary service to a corporate intranet, but many would prefer such a facility to be an integral part of the offering, rather than a third-party plugin. Even Yammer themselves (@Yammer) followed the conversation judging by a subsequent email I later received!

It seems likely though that Yammer usage is part of a growing trend of heterogeneous intranets. At the recent European Portal Evolution Masters conference in Berlin, there were many examples of intranets that had a simple CMS but utilised WordPress, Yammer or Google technologies — either within or without the firewall — to provide an appropriate suite of tools for employees. It occurs that this might be another example of the intranet as a digital gateway (see NetJMC Global Trends Report) or the beginning of a new trend: Heterogeneous Intranets (simple CMS + bought in third party tools) or Homogeneous Intranets (complex, fully functional CMS such as SharePoint).

Love to hear what you think.

There are 18 comments

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  1. Jane McConnell

    Good questions, Jonathan.
    I know a couple global companies that have doubts about Yammer for the points you mentioned; I know others that are very happy with Yammer.
    You have the answer – IMHO – when you say the interactivity and type of communication that is possible with Yammer, Twitter, etc. is becoming essential for people inside co’s as well as externally. Most intranets are struggling to deal with this. It also raises very interesting governance questions, and the need for an overarching body to govern (at a high level) the overall strategy of the intranet/digital workplace.

  2. Phil Kropp

    Interesting piece, thanks for posting it. Just one question: What’s been the focus of your use of Yammer, purely social or with some business context? I’d be very interested to hear your story.

  3. Jonathan

    @Phil — A little of both. At first, exchanges certainly had a more social feel to them but more recently, there’s been link sharing and other business interaction.

    @Jane — thank you for your comment. I’m wholeheartedly in favour of Yammer-style interactions, but need to be convinced that this heterogeneous intranet is the right direction. Watching, reading!

  4. IntranetLounge

    The Heterogeneous Intranet – @DigitalJonathan…

    This article has been submitted to IntranetLounge, a website with a collection of links to the best articles about intranets…

  5. Steve Ellwood

    It’s probably worth highlighting that *if* you use the free service, you have no guarantee you will be able to keep it to your own employees. We played with Yammer a little and ended up with say 2k lurkers.

    Now, you can only challenge one member each a month… normal turnover means that you *know* you have ex-employees on there – and despite knowing the place is insecure… you do have to police it quite heavily. The >140 character and perceived walled garden do make it attractive for some. Me? I always preferred Twitter 🙂

  6. Jonathan

    @Steve – I also prefer Twitter! Thank you for your comment. I was unaware of the ‘challenge’ limit which would almost certainly mean that you could not guarantee exclusive company only membership.

  7. Sam Marshall

    Hi Jonathan
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    The homogeneous heterogeneous dilemma is one that seems to have existed for decades around software. The homo- route solves integration headaches but rarely offers best of breed functionality, certainly not until an advanced maturity level is met (e.g. most people are happy with MS Office now, but initially the suite had big gaps compared to individual prgrams such as WordPerfect).

    The hetero route I think is great during periods of innovation. It allows companies to experiment with new features long before the Portal makers catch up. But you reach a point sticking point when you get past the early-adopter user population where the lack of integration is a barrier.

    So perhaps the answer is to go with the homo- route for your main intranet and experiment with emerging hetero- add-ons while you learn what is useful for your org. By the time the learning period is over you will hopefully know if it is worth the effort to integrate it yourself – or indeed, the next release of the homogeneous software may well include it.

  8. Jeremy P

    You are right about the Yammer people reading your conversations.

    For this reason alone, they can’t be a trusted service provider.

  9. Guy Stephens

    Yammer is a great tool and we used it when I was at The Carphone Warehouse. We started small and organically and within a few months we had over 500 Yammer users. It was a fantastic tool when linked with Twitter via #yam, bringing both internal and external worlds together. I tweeted at an internal manager’s conference and using #yam enabled us to keep our employees who weren’t there updated with what was happening. Absolutely invaluable tool also for bringing remote employees together. We used it within our call centre and it simply sped up the time it took to find answers to questions.

  10. Jonathan

    Guy – thanks for your comments.

    I don’t doubt that Yammer is a great tool. My concern is about the security of the information, costs, long-term accessibility and finally, about directing employees outside of the intranet to do their internal communications.

    I’m delighted to hear of your successes though; it bodes well for organisations considering using Yammer or similar internal social collaboration tools.

    Stay in touch, love to learn more from you.

  11. Bryan Meyer


    Thanks for all of your thoughts on Yammer. Without diving too deep I want to address a few points made by your posters.

    @ Jeremy P. I work at Yammer and at no time have access to the conversations within other’s private Networks.

    @Steve Ellwood for clarification with the “free” version users have the ability to challenge users if they are not a current employee and yes this is limited. With the “Enterprise” version our customers can have AD Sync and other capabilities to upload and take out Yammer users within their network. Playing with Yammer “a little” and having 2k lurkers seems extraordinary. Was no one at your company engaged with us?

    Thank you again everyone for your thoughts and keep the conversations going.

    I can be reached at


  12. Jeremy P

    Bryan – how do you explain your local rep here telling me that he reads the conversations and responds to the key people via email?

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