Yammer vs. mailing lists

On Friday, I created the Finnish Microsoft Developers’ mailing list. Yes, mailing list, and I knew I was going to get whacked about it. I guess it’s time to do some explaining.

First off, thank you to everyone who sent me feedback. Even if you’re calling me a freaking luddite from the 90s, I appreciate that you care.

I’ll start by pointing out the key facts:

  • I know how to use Yammer. I use it every day, and I have more networks than fingers.
  • I think Yammer’s features would benefit the Finnish developer community.
  • I initially wanted and intended to make this a Yammer network.

The decision to go with the mailing list was mine. I couldn’t poll the community with ease, because… well, we don’t have that community, at least yet. Instead, I took input from a non-trivial number of people around the world who run lists, forums and Yammer networks like this. But there’s no substitute for the local voice, and the discussion has now been opened. I’m happy to take input.

Why?

It all boils down to a single question: What is the best way to gain maximum engagement? This question needs to be answered per community. Even if Yammer works for your company or the Microsoft Preview Program you happen to be in, it doesn’t imply universal acceptance.

Using email causes the YOS (Yammer-Office-Sharepoint) crowd to laugh out loud, while a more nuts-and-bolts-type developer may well treat Yammer as a superfluous crap over simple, time-tested protocols such as email. As I pondered the needs for Finnish developer community, I felt that it was more important to get a lowest-common-denominator approach that would alienate the least amount of important people.

And in this sense, I do feel that the Enterprise Social Network minded information worker consultants are a less-important minority, and more pressingly, also one that is currently better served by other communities. Furthermore, I want to be extra careful not to alienate the group of people who are just entering the Microsoft focus: groups such as Node.js developers and Linux devs just using Azure as a platform.

Put bluntly: I’d rather get the big masses from the trenches than try to cater to those who are semi-professional community builders by trade already (and yes, I believe being a Yammer fanatic sort of implies this).

Is Yammer really good?

At the very least, I like its features. I would love to have a great attachment story. Having online polls would be nice, and being able to “like” stuff instead of posting pesky +1 emails is… well, modern. But, if you have nobody to attach images to, or nobody to answer your polls, or nobody to ever hit the like button… Well, who cares?

On the other hand, Yammer isn’t all greatness. For example, use of groups tends to split the discussion. That works when you’re a busy enterprise or a 5000-strong network of naturally chatty Microsoft MVPs, but try doing that in the traditionally quiet environment of Finnish software developers. Split up a low-volume discussion, and you have just reached split silence.

In many ways, Yammer could be fixed. It would just need to have a better notification system, better client software, better authentication model, better support for multiple networks… It would also help if I could make the network public – one of the better aspects of the current Google Groups implementation is that the message contents are indexed for public searchability.

After all is said and done, I think it most importantly comes down to this: Almost no Yammer networks outside the immediate corporate sphere survive, unless they have a strong host presence and a sense of urgency to them. It is possible to make a Yammer community thrive, and I respect all the Yammer Community Managers out there. But you also need to realize that I have nowhere near the reach or resources of an intra-company community manager. Either the list has low barrier to entry and it quickly proves itself useful to those who join – or it fails and disappears.

TL;DR

I chose email over Yammer because my faith in Yammer’s ability to hold people after the initial rush of excitement isn’t very strong. Yammer may well be the best technology in a sense, but the best technology doesn’t always win. Yammer is fairly good at resolving issues that arise in an active community – so far I don’t trust its worth in fostering a community where one doesn’t already exist.

I am not certain about my choice of technology, but a choice had to be made, and a mailing list felt (and still feels) best. It won’t satisfy everyone, but nothing would.

I have no idea if this community will thrive. Odds are overwhelmingly against success (come on, doesn’t “Finnish developer online community” sound like an oxymoron from the get-go? ;-)). It is possible to switch over to Yammer at some point if we want to – but I doubt that will change our fate.

Again, thanks for your feedback. I hope the above clarifies my thinking on the subject. Feedback is still welcome (in any language).

April 12, 2015 · Jouni Heikniemi · One Comment
Posted in: General

One Response

  1. Jouni Heikniemi - April 13, 2015

    Reading that the next morning, I think the last paragraphs came out as overly negative.

    My point wasn't that I didn't believe in a Finnish online community forming. I think we have a chance, that's why I'm trying. The key point is that I don't believe the choice of Yammer vs. mailing list even close to being critical to the success. If we can get people to rely on each other in professional matters, we have succeeded.

Leave a Reply