Bo is a Principal Consultant for ThreeWill. He has 18 years of full lifecycle software development experience.
Is your SharePoint like MySpace?
If you are here, then the title did its job. I’ve lured you in so I could get on my soapbox about SharePoint governance. My goal for this post is to focus on aspects of Facebook that I feel contributed to its success and relate them to SharePoint Governance. I am defining success as attracting and retaining users and being the place where they spend more and more time online.
A little history
Over the past several years I, like many people, have witnessed the rise of Facebook and the decline of MySpace. It wasn’t until recently when I saw MySpace purchased for something like one tenth of its previous value, that I stopped to ask more academically, why? Just like millions of people, I was early on the MySpace bandwagon but was turned off by the dizzying array of themes, videos, layouts and essentially chaos I found as I was trying to social network. When Facebook came along, I approached it with some trepidation but knew that social networking was something I wanted to be a part of. Years later, I’m still using it as much as ever.
What are the lessons?
So why has Facebook stuck? Below are a few thoughts on why I feel Facebook has stuck for me. I feel that these lessons can be applied through governance to SharePoint, so it will stick too.
- Simple Discovery
- Discovering friends is simple.
- Potential friends are discovered and pushed as recommendations.
- Consistent Interface
- Every friend/fan page is laid out with a consistent look and feel.
- The most important and relevant content is in the center and related content is around the edges.
- Your activity stream is personalized to your needs. If a friend is too chatty, you can hide them; this allows you to keep focused only on items you are interested in.
Why Do I Care?
First, let me say that I’m not using social networking site lessons to suggest building your own corporate social network. Instead, my goal is to show you how they’ve made users stick around, contribute and consume content. If your enterprise is getting social, SharePoint and Jive is a great pairing to achieve both collaboration and socialization.
When it comes to content management and collaboration, two things hold true: content is king and your portal’s usefulness depends on the perceptions of those that use it on a daily basis. It’s easy to get hung up on the rules that govern content. A governance plan should be your organization’s tool to walk the line between two opposite ends of the spectrum. On one end is the Bermuda Triangle where content goes in never to be found again and on the other are so many rules that content never goes in at all.
Applying the lessons to SharePoint
Make no mistake, defining your corporate governance model is a challenge; primarily because there is no one right answer. Business units have differing requirements which change over time, users have diverse goals, and you want to enable and empower but protect at the same time. Let’s take those lessons and dive into areas within SharePoint to consider when creating your governance plan.
- Site Hierarchy (Taxonomy)
One of the first and most overlooked (or over simplified) aspects of discovery in SharePoint is your site structure. Take time to map out areas of content and usage that will map to your web applications, site collections and web sites. Many users are “browsers” and a consistent way for them to navigate is a key to discovery.
- Site Layout/Structure
When considering your site structure, you must also think about when a user “lands” on a site. If a site is accessible to all users in your company (for example a publicly available HR site), then the layout should be familiar so that sites with similar purpose and visibility are consistent. Having the same items on the quick launch and the same types of views in the main content area is helpful for unfamiliar consumers on a site.
Search in SharePoint is an obvious part of discovery. The thing to keep in mind is that your search experience is influenced by many factors. Your site hierarchy, your user security and undoubtedly your use of tagging and metadata all can either help or hurt a user’s search experience.
- Tagging and Metadata
This may be one of the biggest challenges you will face when walking that line. Your content contributors want quick and simple without requiring lots of metadata and your consumers (especially when searching) expect a lot of metadata in order to help them find what they need. Consider simple Enterprise Keyword columns where users tag and create a folksonomy as a first step, and try to push for more structured Managed Metadata columns as much as feasible.
- Information Management Policies
One aspect of information management policies that is important is expiration. Explore expiration policies as a way to clean up old documents or move them to more permanent locations when collaboration and usage levels on them are low. If you have successfully added lots of content into SharePoint, there may come a point where there is just too much to consume. A good policy for cleaning up old sites, old libraries and old documents can ensure a better discovery experience.
- Master Pages/Page Layouts
Without a doubt these are very important for creating consistency. If you don’t have specific requirements for your users to customize them, then I would use the same one for all sites and not enable users to change these via SharePoint Designer.
- Site Templates
Out of the box SharePoint comes with many templates, including a team site which is where many companies start. Explore creating site templates or site definitions for a consistent user experience across sites of the same type. What is part your company’s standard public department site or an enterprise project site is probably different than a standard team site. Site templates start everyone with the same list/document assets to ensure consistency.
Many times this is an afterthought because it typically doesn’t seem to be a problem until site sprawl has made navigation unusable or unmanageable. Defining your site hierarchy upfront and from the top down will lead to a usable navigation experience. Typically, you should start with top level sites being more open and broadly accessibly and lower sub-sites becoming more specific and tightly controlled.
I realize security within personalization seems misplaced, but I’ve put it here to intentionally draw attention to the fact that how you secure your content can affect your user’s experience. More access isn’t always better. Consider using security to prevent unwanted content from clouding your user’s experience. With security trimming for navigation and search, you can reduce the noise that slows users down. Only open up sites as fully public when it makes sense; consider sub-sites for content that is not relevant or that needs to be more secure.
- Personalized Views
Consider using personalized views as much as possible including those with a [Me] filter where appropriate. Leveraging these as the default views in site templates and on landing pages provides a more meaningful experience to members of the site.
Make use of audiences, if possible, to target content to users based on role, organization or other specific attributes. You can even use audiences to show navigation items to only specific groups of users.
If you’ve read this blog post all the way to this point, congratulations. I think it means you are serious about creating a governance plan for your organization. While I’ve certainly not hit all aspects that feed into a governance plan, I hope I’ve given you some things to consider when you plan your governance. Check out the related links below to get more prescriptive guidance from Microsoft on SharePoint governance.
Governance overview (SharePoint Server 2010) – http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc263356.aspx
Governance features (SharePoint Server 2010) – http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc262287.aspx