SharePoint's social partners could be in lurch after Yammer purchase


Microsoft made a big splash when it finalized the Yammer purchase in June after over a week of speculation about the deal, but what it also did was leave many of its social partners in the lurch, and I'm wondering what happens to these companies now.

SharePoint is a huge program, and I have always maintained that while it does many things, it doesn't necessarily do them all well. In an interview with former SharePoint director Christian Finn in 2009 (who has since left Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFTfor Oracle), he acknowledged that SharePoint had gaps (even though he felt it could stand up to anyone), but that was where third-party partners came in.

Social up until now has been one of those areas where Microsoft provided some basic functionality in SharePoint, then left it to that partner network to provide the strongest social support for the product. Companies like NewsGator and Telligent have to be wondering what happens to them after the Yammer purchase because they have primarily made their living by providing social support for SharePoint.

As Analyst Larry Hawes pointed out in his Dow Brook blog after the Yammer purchase, NewsGator was recognized as the 2011 Partner of the Year in the U.S., while Telligent scored the Digital Marketing Partner of the Year for 2012. So much for the recognition because with one stroke of the pen, Microsoft might have left these once highly valued partners high and dry.

Of course, Microsoft has no obligation whatsoever to these and other SharePoint partners. Microsoft puts SharePoint out there and with each iteration fills in some of those gaps that Finn was referring to back in 2009. He also referred to the relationship with SharePoint partners as "coopetition," so he was acknowledging that they were competing and cooperating at the same time. In reality, if these companies have put all their eggs in the SharePoint basket, it's on them.

There are lot of unknown factors that need answering before we write off these and other partners, however. For instance, it remains to be seen how well Microsoft will incorporate Yammer into the upcoming version of SharePoint or how many of its customers will embrace a cloud-based solution like Yammer. For many, there will still be room for products like NewsGator and Telligent, but the job obviously just got a bit tougher for these two companies.

Also, while In reality SharePoint 2013 is well along in the development process, many companies will continue to use older versions of SharePoint for many years to come. As Tony Byrne joked on his Real Story Group company blog, Microsoft might want to call the upcoming version SharePoint 2015, because it could be that long before most companies adopt it.

The partner companies have time to adjust. And when you partner with Microsoft, it's always going to be a bit of a crap shoot. Microsoft has created a tremendous ecosystem for partners and many have made a nice living from Microsoft's largesse, but that doesn't mean that Microsoft doesn't recognize missing pieces in its own products that it would prefer to handle in-house. And when that happens, it's up to the partners to continue to enhance their products to be better than what Microsoft offers in SharePoint or find new ways to monetize their products. - Ron