Yammer impacting Microsoft's software development process

Yammer updates its enterprise social networking software on a weekly basis and then closely monitors user adoption of the changes

Microsoft has started to adopt some key software development practices from Yammer, the ESN (enterprise social networking) vendor it acquired several months ago.

Specifically, Microsoft sees great value in the way Yammer introduces weekly changes and new features to its cloud-hosted suite and then closely monitors their usage to determine if they are useful to customers.

This process of tweaking software in constant small doses and then rapidly vetting the impact by slicing and dicing user analytics represents a major departure from Microsoft's traditional "big bang" product upgrade approach.

"We release software updates with data. We know when a change drives more or less engagement," said Adam Pisoni, Yammer co-founder, in an interview at Microsoft's SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas.

The impact of Yammer's approach is naturally being felt first in Microsoft's Office Division, which absorbed Yammer after the US$1.2 billion acquisition in July, and where Pisoni is now engineering general manager.

"The influence these guys have had on us has been very deep," said Jared Spataro, senior director of SharePoint Product Marketing.

At the conference's opening keynote on Monday, Microsoft officials made it clear that the future of a product like SharePoint -- a collaboration server -- is in its cloud-hosted version SharePoint Online.

Yes, Microsoft plans to release a big update in next year's first quarter called SharePoint 2013 that has been in the works for three years and that can be installed on customer premises. But SharePoint Online will feature the SharePoint 2013 enhancements while also being updated going forward on a much more frequent 90-day cycle, according to Microsoft officials.

In part for that reason, Microsoft is saying it prefers that customers use SharePoint Online, which can be bought as a stand-alone cloud service or as part of the broader Office 365 Enterprise suite.

Pisoni said that in the beginning Yammer officials discussed the potential benefits, especially around marketing impact, of consolidating enhancements and releasing them as big upgrades less frequently, but quickly abandoned the idea.

"The marketing benefits to big releases aren't worth the tradeoff," he said. "What you lose in marketing splash you get back in utility and knowing the thing works."

Spataro said Yammer's influence in this area "is going to manifest itself in tremendous ways in the coming quarters and years."

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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