If you need to collaborate in a closed group with members that are not sharing an office, you might like to try out Yammer. I started experimenting with Yammer recently in the frame of a curriculum on Social Media for Learning & Change in Organisations. In the short time I have been using it I have found it a very useful and easy-to-use tool.
In Yammer you can set up a network within which you can discuss, share information and develop documents.
In order to keep track of discussions you can tag them with a “topic” and you can post them as a “question“. Using topic tags or the question format (or both), it is easy to keep track of all replies related to a certain topic, especially if you decide to follow a certain topic.
If you would like to organise a “vote” on an issue or statement or inventory opinions on a certain matter you can use the poll function.
You can also create an event. If a member confirms they are attending they can immediately include the event in their electronic calendar.
Working in a document can be done the “old fashioned way” by uploading documents that others can download, work on and upload again or you can use the “page” function to work in a wiki-environment in which different people can edit the same text even at the same time.
After downloading the right apps members can work in the Yammer environment via their mobile phone (iPhone, Android, Blackberry) or iPad for instance. Otherwise, you can log in to the Yammer website and work from there. If you are already member of another Yammer network you can log in once and switch between networks while you’re there.
Yammer can keep you updated on activity within your network via e-mail. The administrator can set this up as a general daily or weekly digest or limit it to discussions the members are following. Members themselves decide whether they want to follow a discussion or page activity or not.
If you are the network moderator Yammer can help you with information on who has been active and what they have been doing through the activity stream and the so-called “leaderboards” that show all kinds of statistics of discussions and members. Using this information gives you a possibility to see if everyone is as active as you had planned or as is needed, and in case something seems off you can contact members separately. Yammer provides a possibility for private messages that only the addressee and the sender can see, just like in Facebook.
On the whole, Yammer has a sort of Facebook look and feel about it. It is rather easy and intuitive to use, although of course as with any new tool you need to find out as you go how things work and what works best for you and your group.
For instance, if you work on a document together via the pages option of Yammer, it is wise to agree on using strikethrough if you want to delete something and to add your initials (Maarten van Rijn, thanks for the valuable tip!). Otherwise, you can delete something without anyone noticing this or knowing who decided to delete it. However, this is something that might not be the case anymore when you start using it, as Yammer is going through a range of changes and adjustments at the moment.
Yammer started out as “the Twitter service for your company” but has fast become much more than just that. It’s become a tool for collaboration rather than just sending out untargeted information. Nowadays, it is being used in a lot of bigger companies, ministries and organisations as well as in smaller ad hoc groups to make documents, photos, videos and discussion accessible for all and to come to common conclusions and products. And the good thing is, there a free version that offers all the basics you need if you want to keep things simple. If you are willing to pay, you have extra possibilities among other things for design.