Bo is a Principal Consultant for ThreeWill. He has 18 years of full lifecycle software development experience.
I have been working with Modern SharePoint for some time now. Because of that, I’ve seen it’s progression from something that was very pretty, but lacked enough features and web parts, so many did not seriously consider it as a replacement for their existing intranet. Now, in present day, I feel current Modern SharePoint Web Parts are good enough for anyone to use for their intranet. With SharePoint, there will always be compromises or needs that force the creation of custom web parts and extensions. However, the need for customization is now (as it should be) driven more from solutions that are specific to a line of business problem and not from a more generic Corporate Communications driven intranet perspective.
Having prefaced with how far I think the modern experience has come, we are always wanting more. Each new feature and every new web part feeds our collective desire for more and more. Sometimes this is driven by our desire to seek parity with old Classic Publishing portals. While sometimes it’s driven by features we’ve seen in entirely separate platforms like Jive and Oracle WebCenter. Other times it’s driven by cool things we’ve seen Intranet in a Box vendors demonstrate.
Below is a list of a few new web parts or updates to existing web parts that are top of mind for me these days for me.
New Web Parts or Features
Table of Contents Web Part
- Now that Microsoft rolled out the feature to automatically generate page anchors when using the Text web part with H1,H2,H3 items, many of my customers and I have been wondering when the obvious pairing will come along. Because the page editing experience has improved so much, we are seeing many people create very long and verbose pages with lots of content. This is especially true as they embed images and other things. Part of this is that lots of users are coming from Jive where collaborative documents (think HTML content) are more of the norm than actual Office documents. For these reasons, it would be amazing if they could put a Table of Contents web part at the top of a page and it have a few configuration knobs like styling and how many levels of to show. Something like we have in Word today, but maybe not as feature rich (at first 😊). Note that in a PnP Community Call this was discussed. It sounds like Microsoft is vetting this web part internally so maybe one day it will land on the Microsoft 365 roadmap.
Q&A Web Part
- Okay, so this is sort of a shameless plug for a custom web part that we’ve developed for a customer. But in hindsight, it makes complete sense to be available to anyone who wants to create an engaging intranet. Imaging HR creates a Communication Site where all your information on benefits is, links to other systems and basically all the content they want you to have access to. So, what if I have a question about where to find something? Or about how to do something that has context related to the HR Communication site?
- The first obvious answer would likely be Yammer, create a group, put the conversation on a page and then let people interact. However, simply opening Yammer comes with a slew of Governance considerations and risks. It’s just not as easy to control as SharePoint, and that can be a problem for some. We solved this dilemma with a custom Q&A solution that allows site owners to put a Question box on their page(s), open it up for anyone to ask and answer questions and allow the site owner to moderate. All the data is in the site, it follows permission models and patterns within the SharePoint site.
- My net take away from the experience of developing the web part and seeing users gravitate to it is: what may still be lacking generally speaking in Modern SharePoint is more ways to facilitate two way communication and social interaction on Modern stand-alone Communication Sites. I realize Pages support Comments and Likes, this is a great start, but I hope there is more of this to come.
Updates to Existing Web Parts or Features
Some of my ideas below may never be realized for one reason or another but one can dream, can’t they?
Text Web Part & Image Web Part Audience Targeting
- It would be awesome if this web part supported applying an audience in which you could have author rich text on a page and then have it only show to a specific group of users viewing the page. I realize how complex the implications of this can be, especially as it relates to search.. Do we crawl and index a page based on targeted information on a page? If so, a user gets a hit on a page but opens the page and doesn’t see any text that matched their search. Things could get confusing quick.
Image Gallery Web Part Support for Image Linking
- When choosing to dynamically display images from a document library this obviously wouldn’t make sense, however the ‘select image’ option already allows you to upload/select images, given them a title, caption and alternative text. Why not allow a hyperlink too? This would be awesome because customers often want a carousel of images and don’t want to deal with having to create News or Pages just to be able to use the carousel available in News or Highlighted Content.
- As an alternative, the Hero web part with another option to layout as a carousel would also work fine. In fact, is already does this but only when used in a 1/3 column or on a mobile device. Maybe it can just a new layout option. Just saying’.
Highlighted Content Web Part Styling Options
- Admittedly, some of these ideas are driven from the amazing Modern Search web parts available through the PnP community. Most likely, what would happen first would be the ability to hide that dang type icon that shows in the bottom right of each card!! However, if I’m already being greedy why not just allow customization of more things like: showing the author byline instead of editor or showing additional managed properties, that might provide more information, in the card. Like I said, those Modern Search web parts really spoiled me.
News Web Part Filtering When Used for More Than Just This Site
- I put this one out there even though I believe it may already be in the works. Anyone who has used the News web part often finds themselves in a conundrum when they are rolling up content. News looks great but can’t filter across sites, Highlighted Content looks okay but doesn’t respect News rules (like author byline). For some customers, we’ve developed a web part that leverages search but provides layout options like News and supports filtering News across sites. There is just enough parity and differences between Highlighted Content and News that you’ve really got to know them well to pick your poison for your given scenario. Ideally there was more parity, maybe even negating the need for both?
News Web Part Hiding When You Have No Content
- Another one of those parity between News and Highlighted Content issues is that tucked away at the very bottom of Highlighted Content is a checkbox that allows you to hide the web part when it has nothing to show for the current user. Why does this matter? Well with the implementation of audience support, it’s even more valuable to have it on the News web part. If a user is not in any audience for any of the News articles they see on a page, then they get to see the silhouette view telling you to Create a News article. For this reason, I’ve been telling customers to use the Highlighted Content web part if there is a chance that ‘no results’ is a valid scenario.
What about you?
So now that I’ve gone on about my wish list, I’m reminded that I should really put these items in UserVoice to see if I’m all alone or if others have the same wants. Do any of my ideas resonate with you or do you have any from your own wish list you’d like to share? Feel free to comment with links to the User Voice items and maybe we can get more eyes on the things we’d like to see. It’s a new Microsoft and they are really listening to the customer and putting high value requests on the roadmap.
Want to learn more about what’s recent on the roadmap for Microsoft? Check out our 2019 Microsoft Ignite Conference summary.