Launched this week as part of the TechCrunch50 conference in San Francisco, Yammer has taken the concept of Twitter and directed it towards improving communication between work colleagues.

We’ve been trying it out…

Background

Yammer was originally developed as a tool to improve internal communications at family history website geni.com, and was used by the company’s workforce before they decided to launch it for everyone else to use.

Yammer was launched by former PayPal COO David Sacks, who was also a founder of Geni.com.

Getting started

Any member of a company can start a private group on Yammer, and the name of the network will be taken from the hostname of the email address.

Once you have signed up, you can invite as many colleagues as you like to join the network, and once they have entered their name and set up a password, you’re done.

Invitations are limited to people with a valid corporate email address, so this provides an excellent way to keep the network within the company and to ensure that all Yammer members from the same workplace are grouped together, even if they sign up independently of one another.

How does it work? 

The main Yammer page resembles Twitter, and messages are displayed in the same way:

Yammer - e-consultancy

Instead of asking ‘what are you doing?’, Yammer asks what you are working on, and any messages you enter are displayed in chronological order and can be viewed by anyone in your organisation.

If you have several people involved in discussions on Yammer, it could soon become very difficult to sort through for colleagues joining the conversation later, so Yammer has provided a few useful ways to sort through entries.

Adding the # character before a word will tag the message with that word so it can easily be searched for, and entries with that tag can be grouped together.

As on Twitter, adding @ will direct your message at a particular user, as well as sending them an email alerting them to your reply.

Conversations can also be sorted into threads. If you begin a message with re: and the person’s name, this will be shown as a reply. Clicking on the reply link will display that conversation as a separate thread.

Other applications

There is also a desktop, AIR based application which can be downloaded, which displays entries on your computer and alerts you when a new message arrives.

Yammer desktop app

This is useful if you don’t want to have to keep checking back to the website for updates, and will ensure that you don’t miss anything.

There are also apps available for your Blackberry or iPhone so you can keep up on the move. You can also use SMS to keep up to date, though Yammer only supports US mobile providers at the moment.

How does it make money? 

The basic service is free to use, but if a company wants more control over administrating its Yammer network, there is a paid version.

For $1 a month per user, companies can have more admin rights, including the ability to remove users, delete messages, restricting access to a specific IP range, or customising its appearance.

Conclusion:

This is a very simple yet very useful communications tool. If your company has employees working from home or separate locations, this offers an easy way to stay in touch and keep conversations going within the company.

It is easy to use and set up a network, while the thread and tagging options offer a way to manage and make sense of all the entries that will build up over time.

Update: 
Since this post was written, Yammer has been announced as the winner of

TechCrunch50.

The service is proving to be popular too: 10,000 people have signed up since it launched on Monday.

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