Why isn’t my SharePoint Environment Social???

As we prepare our environments for SharePoint 2010 to take advantage of new features and solutions, there is still much more we can do to so we can take advantage of the social features today.  You may have read the heated debate around whether SharePoint 2007 is social software or if it’s true enterprise 2.0 or read the various whitepapers that drill into the feature sets.  Have you stepped back and looked at your environment and asked… Did we turn on those knobs and switches?

When I hear about customer’s who have turned their SharePoint my sites into Facebook, Twitter (have you seen the free Tunnelpoint?), or Myspace.  I chuckle a little, but when I hear what they’ve done, I realize that it isn’t that much of a stretch.

Those who have deployed their 2007 just like they did their 2001 and their 2003 environment simply by upgrading it, or simply didn’t spend any time figuring out how to take advantage of their features may feel like their environment is FLAT or they are feeling the chaos of a flat environment. 

Here’s my description of what’s gone wrong…

  1. You can’t find anything
  2. You can’t tell who owns anything
  3. You can’t tell what’s new, what’s old or what has changed
  4. It’s all disconnected

There’s one word to describe it.  JUNK.  It’s a total mess.  It’s far from social, it’s ANTI-Social, and it’s that way not due to the software, but due to the deployment decisions or lack thereof.

I’m working with a customer who describes this environment and they say, SharePoint is missing the social features they need in SharePoint 2007.  I’ve told them, the problem isn’t with the software.  Sure there are more exciting features rumored and dozens of various partners like Newsgator, Telligent, Kwizcom, Tomoye, and SchemaLogic plus a ton more that have some cool enhancements, but have you looked at the core infrastructure and the core information architecture as well as how you’ve integrated the social features that are actually built right in the box?  Evaluate yourself against this quick list…  Also let me know what I’m missing or create your own as you continue to drive social features into your deployment.

Is Your SharePoint Environment Social Ready??

  1. Is your environment Internet Accessible?  Is it easily accessible?  I find people that have both hard to access or require multiple logins and many hoops to jump through keeping them from effectively using the environment on the go, on site at a customer, or even remote device accessible like mobile and/or lightweight…  Complicated URLs, VPNs, and smart cards can destroy the usefulness of the SharePoint environment.  Security is their to protect the information, but if people can’t use it or create it, the usefulness goes away.  Many still use crazy server names for their URLs which make it difficult to remember.  Make sure the portals and URLs are short, and easy to remember, and if you are using internet accessible URLs they are again Short and easy to remember FQDNs and the alternate access mappings and security is again accessible and actually works.  This area is definitely one to get feedback on.  There’s some give and take here.  ISA or IAG may be a consideration if you need some added layers of security.  Don’t forget anti-virus checking as well.
  2. Have you deployed My sites?  With both structured and unstructured environments, the context of the individual is very important.  As a person flows through the organization, it’s important to have that sense of place.  The my site is where not only the individual can store their most relevant information, but also out of context information and file sharing 
  3. How rich are your User Profiles? Some people haven’t invested much in AD, and manager’s and colleagues and that sort of thing are simply non existent.  While all the information for that sort of thing is tied up in some HR system, you’re missing it by not importing it into SharePoint.  The richer the profile, the richer the people search, and the more likely people will use it for lookups and user directories.  Even if you don’t have all this, have you made it user editable and trained the users on how to leverage it, so they can leverage the features in their my sites?
  4. Are you using SharePoint Search, Federated Search with People Search? Many are simply using the out of the box unconfigured search.  They haven’t setup the federated search capabilities that came in the infrastructure update, let alone the federated search displaying users in search results.  The people search capabilities will really help drive people into the my sites and profiles making what people contribute in those areas more relevant and help promote the people and their expertise based on their roles and projects.
  5. Using Blogs & Wikis? The SharePoint blogs and wikis are very simple ways of including web 2.0 technology on the intranet.  They aren’t the best blogs or wikis out there, but when combined with the community kit, and when integrated with the my sites, the social interaction can be much richer.  I find team blogs really relevant.  The IT Group who manages the SharePoint environment should use a blog to show what they’ve been doing with the SharePoint environment and share stories about what they are troubleshooting and fixing.  Share the planned downtime, share links to the service pack you’re installing.  You’d be amazed who cares and how much more connected IT can get with the user base by simply sharing this information.  The SharePoint wiki along with the Enhanced Wiki Edition from the Community kit creates a whole new editing experience for users.  Wikis in SharePoint could use some training the first time to introduce a user to the versioning, linking, and so on, but once the user gets it, it’s amazing how different and dynamic a set of information can be.  Next time a group is working on working on a combined document have them try a wiki instead.
  6. Enabled your Presence Integration with LCS or OCS (& Telephony) & Exchange for Out of Office? While simple and easy to enable (hey it’s on by default if the SIP address is lined up), the RTC, LCS, OCS integration of getting the simple presence integrated into SharePoint can make it easy to reach out and touch someone.  It saves a lot of time and effort when you search for someone and see their out of office on their my site or in the presence drop down.
  7. Is your SharePoint deployment easy to navigate?  A bunch of team sites whether created on MOSS or WSS can be extremely flat and difficult to navigate if you haven’t setup a structure for 1) Search and 2) Browse.  The site directory alone does NOT solve this issue.  You need to have navigation that helps you get from site collection to site collection, and across departments and team sites.  How do you do this?  You setup an enterprise portal with enterprise search, and a lightweight navigation structure of departments, groups, business units… essentially a taxonomy that’s easy to navigate where you then can find the applicable applications, teams, documents, and has a mechanism where you can find what you need as it relates to both public and private/more secured data on that group or division.  This information architecture and taxonomy of web apps, site collections and sites is key to a successful deployment not only for scale, but discoverability and usability.  SharePoint out of the box doesn’t do this for you.  You need to actually configure and set this up and train those that own these properties on how to integrate with each other and roll up and aggregate into information portals.
  8. Are you expiring sites or content? If you simply continue to use SharePoint without turning on some type of archiving at various levels, you are adding a lot of junk that will make it hard to use.  You need to keep the environment relevant.  Document Mangers need to expire documents, Site admins need to expire old lists and sites, farm admins need to archive and expire old site collections.
  9. Are you using Tagging? Tagging is a term that’s overused and difficult to distinguish the old from the new.  Many don’t use the columns and content types to capture the most relevant information about their content.  Search and search properties could then expose that information as well as filtering on lists or content query web parts for aggregation across the site collection or even search webparts for pulling information based on topics.  Tag clouds are introduced with the free codeplex community kit for blogs, but it isn’t difficult to create tag clouds with content editor web parts or more advanced tag clouds with a little bit of code to aggregate the information at various levels.
  10. Are you using webparts to keep your sites information dynamic?  People need to see what’s new, they need to see information that’s deep in the site aggregated and rolled up to the top.  They want to see interesting charts and reports.  These features like the content query web part, search web parts, but also easy to write web parts that expose information based on date can be easily written with no code using filters, or SharePoint designer, or using Quest webparts, or free enhanced discussions (very forum like) or a dozen other companies that put together aggregation features, charting, and so on.  As people add documents and list information the users of those sites shouldn’t have to be alerted to know something is new (but it is a nice feature), a newsfeed of sorts should be included on the homepage of the site to show content that’s been added.  My sites have web parts that show content that you’ve added, but are you using those features?  This is one area where it takes a bit of effort, not by the admin of the farm, but by the content owners.  They need to get creative in working with the designers to expose the information that’s nested and further down into the site to make it more exciting and interactive and sticky.  Yes, sticky.  That’s why people visit facebook.  They want to see what’s changed, who’s done what since they were last there.  It’s a very important piece of running a good site. 

Remember with any good SharePoint deployment, if you find gaps in your requirements, there are partners, and your platform is extensible.  Based on deployment type, you could include free social solutions from Codeplex to JQuery, to Community Kits and There are a TON of social SharePoint Partners (check out the Read Write Web article on 9 of these) as you really don’t have to wait to get these things going, and of course we all look forward to SharePoint 2010 announcements as they may relate to social at the SharePoint Conference!

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