Do you remember what you were doing in November 1971? I have to confess that I don’t, as my parents hadn’t even met yet. However, I am glad a man by the name of Ray Tomlinson was around. You may never have heard of Ray, but in late 1971, he made an immortal keystroke on a model 33 Teletype to create a reference that defines one of the most ubiquitous forms of communication on the planet. Ray didn’t invent email, but he was the first to use the @ sign in it, to signify which recipient—a person at a computer—that the email should reach.

Now we use the @ sign for much more. Eight years of Twitter later, we recognize that symbol so much we don’t even bother putting the URL on business cards or email signatures anymore, because that @ sign tells us where the remaining 140 characters live.  The same is true inside of companies using Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs).  An @mention indicates who we would like to involve in a discussion, but not everyone yet has embraced ESN with the same gusto of the @ symbol.

Tools such as Yammer are introducing new features to bridge the gap between email ubiquity and social intelligence, so that the levels of engagement and alignment across our organizations are continuously raised. You’ve always been able to interact with Yammer through email. It’s a fantastic user adoption technique, and I’ve always encouraged people to start by CC’ing a Yammer group as a small change in behavior that has a lot of rewards. Moving distribution lists to Yammer groups is a great way to help people manage the forest of email trees while seeding sharing behaviors.

Going beyond that, Yammer now allows you to @mention a person using their email address, so even if your colleague is not on Yammer, they’ll get a notification that they’ve been added to the discussion.

Even if it’s a private group, they’ll be added to just that conversation, and other folks will be able to see that there’s another person involved than the regular members of the group.

It’s a good way to get participation, and the person who is comfortable using email can just email his/her replies back as normal, and eventually gravitate to using the web interface for other features.

naomi_at_mention_privateWhat About Attachments?

We are all attached to our email. And in turn, email provides a valuable layer of metadata, the context for our content, attached to the email. It’s this conversation that we’re trying to move to Yammer sharing the entirety of the conversation for the deliverables we’re producing. Yammer has made some great improvements in this area. Imagine being able to just forward an email from a customer, supplier, partner or colleague with attachments into a group in Yammer. That’s completely doable now.  But, I hear you say, how does that help me? How many times have you scrabbled desperately through your email, trying to find the right conversation with so many replies, and you try to identify with the paperclip icon where the latest version of the attachments are? Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply search? And not just through your email, but all the other conversations that might be relevant?

Yammer recently released a pronounced improvement in being able to process an email with its variety of attachments into usable content. Along with the latest integration with Office Web Apps (now Office Online), this makes for a great productivity boost. Let’s take a typical email and look at what happens when it gets forwarded to a Yammer group.

naomi_at_mention_forwardSo in this email, we’ve got the body of the text with a picture clipped into it, and two different file attachments, in this case an Excel spreadsheet and a Word document. When this email gets forwarded to Yammer, the body text is saved as PDF file and the image is recognized as an image and shows up in as a preview in the conversation. The PDF file is searchable, so the conversation can always be found.  The two files are recognized as openable in Office, and so one click on them puts you straight into Office to make changes, versioning, co-authoring etc.  Incredibly powerful. The files are stored in the group’s files tab automatically. So when you go to search for the text that is in the body of the original email or an attachment, you’ll see it in the Files area. naomi_at_mention_bodynaomi_at_mention_searchThese improvements are just the forerunners of what is possible with Yammer and Office. Integrating conversation, content and context into all the applications you use @ work every day.