I have just returned from the Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando, Florida. 30,000 technology professionals gathered together for a week to learn and connect about new technology, tools and strategies for the year ahead.

For a full week, I visited vendor booths, attended learning sessions and networked with other technology professionals. Before the conference began, we had been told that 2020 would be the #YearofYammer, and as someone involved with Yammer networks as my organization, I was excited to hear how the platform would continue to develop.

Yammer, the Microsoft enterprise social network, has always felt like a poor stepchild since it was bought by Microsoft in 2012. Features have been added to Yammer, but not always in a way that made the platform feel new and refreshed. There have been minor user interface changes, but Yammer still looked much like it did when it was first purchased seven years ago. Yammer was connected to O365 services so that it finally felt like a Microsoft product, but it felt more like a walk-in-closet of functionality in the suite of products, rather than feeling like a full-sized room.

Then, the #YearofYammer was announced. A year in which significant changes in look, feel and functionality were promised. During my involvement with Yammer, I have learned to tame my expectations about such news, but I was pleasantly surprised to arrive at the conference on the first day to see #YearofYammer signage all throughout the massive convention center. Something was in the works.

As a Microsoft MVP who concentrates on Yammer, I was thrilled to be asked to volunteer at the Yammer booth during the conference so I could talk to Microsoft customers about how Yammer might be used at their organization, and to demonstrate the new features and functionality I was learning about along with visitors to the booth.

I arrived at the booth and saw there was palpable excitement by Yammer staff and advocates alike. The swag had been carefully placed around the booth, and we eagerly watched the keynote address where Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talked about all the great things happening at Microsoft, including the first major redesign of Yammer since its 2012 purchase.

The keynote came to an end, and 30,000 people began to roam the exhibition floor, eager to learn and see more.

“Can I see the new Yammer?”

“What is the difference between Yammer and Teams? Why should I use both?

“I thought Yammer was dead a long time ago.”

We eagerly showed the new Yammer design. Many of the lesser used features have been removed, revealing more white space and a sharpened focus on the aspects of Yammer that matter the most like posting, replying and engaging colleagues.

It’s about much more than just a cleaner look, though. The team at Yammer has enhanced Yammer’s ability to host live events from both desktop and mobile devices. Work can be shared directly from Teams into Yammer (the outer loop), so collaboration can happen in a work group, and throughout an entire organization. Microsoft calls this the inner and outer loop. I call this the conference room and the water cooler.

One of the great things about Yammer is that it helps to empower a move away from email (where it is said information goes to die) into a transparent, collaborative platform that is easy to be more productive and connected. However, the team at Yammer recognizes that email is not going away, so Outlook and Yammer are now connected to each other like never before.

Yammer could always send notifications to Outlook, but now a user can fully participate in a Yammer conversation without ever leaving the comfort of their inbox. Posts can be replied to, comments can be “liked,” and conversations can be tracked.

There are many more additions and improvements, but what is most promising is perhaps those things that that are a little more behind the scenes.

The new Yammer is the first Microsoft application to be completely built using their new Fluent Framework collaboration technology. As The Verge wrote in a recent article, “This…allows authors to tear apart content and use it across apps and flexible documents.” There is a lot to be learned about Fluent, but it seems to an exciting promise a way to share and develop content.

Microsoft also announced Project Cortex, a new O365 platform that uses artificial intelligence to create enterprise based knowledge networks and file collections. If your organization uses an acronym or term often, Cortex will automatically identify that term, define that term, list other resources that use that term, and identify colleagues in your organization who are experts regarding that term.

After spending a week immersed in news, roadmaps and revamps for applications throughout the O365 suite of tools, I am enthusiastic about how Yammer will continue to serve our organization.

The #YearofYammer will bring a refreshed interface and great new functionality, but I am also sensing the promise of even greater things coming down the road in the next 2-3 years. With Yammer leading the way as its first fully Fluid platform, Microsoft seems poised to provide functionality to organizations we have not yet even imagined.

Yammer. Fluent. Project Cortex. Terms and acronyms. People and resources. Knowledge and connection.

It was a great week at Microsoft Ignite. It will be a great #YearofYammer ahead.

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