Today Microsoft announced that the group functionality commonly found in social networking tools will now be available right inside the Office 365 Outlook client. As seen below, people can access their normal email Inbox and folders as they always have, but now below that they can navigate to the groups they are part of. A group is a place where people can share messages, files and take advantage of a group calendar.

Now you may be thinking: "Conversations, files and calendars... are those features all available today?" Well, yes all those features are but they are spread out across multiple tools making it difficult for people to use. Think back to a few years ago when Microsoft's attempt at collaboration was focused around their on-premises Sharepoint platform. Common industry opinion was that Sharepoint's activity feed, document libraries and Teamsites lagged far behind pure cloud-centric collaboration players such as Yammer, Jive and Box. Fast forward to today and Yammer is owned by Microsoft, SharePoint, Outlook and Office have strong web-based offerings (bundled as Office 365) and OneDrive is a very robust enterprise file-sharing option. So all the pieces are there, but choosing which tool to use and when can be confusing to the average person. But by blending email and enterprise social networking inside a single client, Microsoft could be taking a significant step in helping improve the adoption of enterprise social networking for Microsoft customers.

It's important to note however, this is not the integration of Yammer within Outlook.  The new Office 365 Groups are not mirror images of the groups that currently exist in Yammer. For example, if you're the member of the Marketing group in Yammer, that group will not automatically appear in Office 365. You will need to create a new group and then add the members. When you start using this new Office 365 group, the messages will not be cross posted to Yammer nor vice versa. So why was Yammer not simply integrated? My assumption is that Microsoft has learned a lot from Yammer, but coding similar functionality using the Microsoft stack will provide them a better long term solution than trying to integrate Yammer across the rest of Office. For example, Office 365 Groups are planned to be rolled into other products such as Lync.

Once the core functionality of Yammer is natively part of the Microsoft platform, I can see the Yammer name being depreciated. While early adopters and those of us in the social networking echo chamber may morn the removal of the name, for the majority of customers the simplification could be a welcome change.  Don't believe me? Look how little Microsoft emphasises the name Sharepoint now. By focusing on Office 365, Microsoft can remove the complication of SharePoint vs. Yammer, Teamsites vs. Office 365 Groups, Yammer groups for Office 365 Groups, Exchange Distribution Lists vs. Office 365 groups, Document Libraries vs. OneDrive, etc.

Ideally Microsoft will make migration tools available to help move customers to a single common set of tools.  Until then, this gap provides a great opportunity for business partners.

Kudos to Microsoft for taking this step in bridging email and social networking. I look forward to hearing customer stories about how people now click on a group name and post a message instead of sending an email.