We’ve started a an impromptu experiment with a new application to foster additional communication and awareness within our group. During one of my Arc Trainer sessions last week, I was listening to a TWIT podcast and heard that a program called Yammer was the winner of the “Techcrunch 50”. Later that afternoon, I began my emerging technology class by asking folks what new technologies they had come upon in the last week, and Jon Messer mentioned that a few people at the University of Richmond were exploring Yammer, and Maria Elena signed up for an account and invited a few of us to join. For the past week, a number of the AIS group have been yammering about work. (About 10,000 companies began experimenting with Yammer in the first week after the TechCrunch award.)

Yammer is like a private Twitter. Instead of Twitter’s question, “What are you doing, Yammer asks “What are you working on?” As folks answer that question, a feed is produced provding a running list of ideas, news, questions, links and other information. (Unfortunately (IMHO) Yammer doesn’t enforce the 140 character limit on posts, so they have a tendency to go a little longer than the typical tweet.)
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There are about 10 of us who are members, and, so far, I’m finding it to be an interesting application. The AIS group is so widely dispersed that we often miss out the opportunity to communicate informally. Yammer encourages quick, informal communications because it only takes a minute or two to raise a quick question about something that’s on your mind. The conversations are archived, so that the history can be captured if more substantial issues arise. For example, a discussion this morning about finding a specific piece of conferencing software for the Writing Resource Center clearly demonstrated that we need a more systematic strategy for responding to requests for applications sharing and conferencing.

However, users can have threaded discussions, as they can on FriendFeed. Users can also use “hashtags” for tagging topics, and they can follow just those tags, which is useful in following a particular project rather than the people working on it.

According a recent article in the New York Times, “social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it ‘ambient awareness.’ It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does–body language, sighs, stray comments out of the corner of your eye”. Participants in ambient awareness networks develop a sense of the rhythms their fellow participants that they never had before:

This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update–each individual bit of social information–is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. The ambient information becomes like a type of E.S.P, as Haley described it to me, an invisible dimension floating over everyday life.

Yammer is a very low impact technology–much less cognitively demanding than email. All the posts are available in a single place where they”re “skimmable”. (I keep mine on my second monitor, just outside of my field of vision. (I’ve been using Twitter for a year or so now, so I’ve some time to practice my scanning skills.) If my experience with Twitter is any indication, Yammer be one of those pieces of technology that is almost impossible to explain, but that quickly becomes an integrated on-line presence.

Then, it may be just another thing we try that gets jettisoned because it takes more time than it’s worth.