Back in 2017 Yammer introduced animated GIFs to posts, embracing what has become somewhat of a cultural norm in online communities and chat tools.
I immediately took issue with the feature and began to rally to the product group to introduce a toggle that would allow it to be turned off. My logic was that while GIFs are all very well and good, in some instances they may not be welcomed. Examples of this would be government organisations where communications and engagement are still a little stiff and formal, or organisations that are new to Yammer.
Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I love GIFs. In many instances I’m able to communicate solely using GIFs and no words – however there is a time and a place.
The challenge is that not everyone thinks and feels the same as us. Someone may be offended by a particular GIF, or misread the meaning behind it.
When I initially began campaigning for a toggle I was greeted with a wall of resistance from the product group and a number of MVPs saying that the culture of any organisation should be able to embrace and work with GIFs, and that the option to disable them should not be made available.
My argument was that Microsoft Teams makes available settings for GIFs both at an organisational level, as well as a per-team level. This gives organisations and owners the choice to completely disable GIFs, or enable them but choose what moderation level to be applied (ie. strict, moderate, or none).
A few months ago on 365 Unplugged, Alistair Pugin and I discussed this topic and I used a practical example of how unprofessional things can potentially be:
Looking beyond misunderstandings or political correctness, the challenge with animated GIFs is that they do not offer a meaningful response that can be indexed and analysed for sentiment; either by a human or AI.
Imagine a CEO posts an announcement about a new product or direction for the business, and someone responds with this GIF:
What does this mean? Are we to assume by the facial expression of James Van Der Beek that the person responding is not impressed? Are they being sarcastic? Do they think this is overdue? Or is it merely that the person typed “clap” into the GIF search box and selected the first response they saw, without thinking about how it could be perceived?
What if everyone responded with GIFs? How would the CEO know what staff are actually saying!?
Thankfully, due to a relatively silent update, a toggle now exists in Yammer that enables animated GIFs to be disabled:
I’ve heard people refer to it as “the Loryan switch” because I campaigned so actively and vocally to give customers the choice, however I’m sure it was largely due to UserVoice votes and customer feedback – however I’ll happily own it.
At this point the toggle is only applied for the entire organisation. My preference would be to allow it to be group-based much like in Microsoft Teams, so that perhaps in certain more formal channels such as All Company it can be left off, however in less formal groups such as social club or fun stuff (or whatever you call yours) they can be enabled.
In any case, I thank the Yammer team for rolling this feature out.
Also published on Medium.