In my last article “Evaluating SharePoint 2010 as an Enterprise 2.0 platform” I did a quick and dirty evaluation of SharePoint 2010 against Prof. McAfee’s SLATE framework. The average score for SP2010 was 7 out of 10 which I characterised as “pretty good”. But the article noted some obvious gaps in the lower scores in some areas. I was contacted by NewsGator (news, site) to discuss how their Social Sites product helps fill those gaps in the SharePoint 2010 “out of the box” Enterprise 2.0 experience.
SharePoint's Strong Partner Ecosystem
I spoke to J.B Holston, NewsGator CEO and President and Brian Keller, Vice President of Products. The first point that JB wanted to make with reference to many of the deficits in SharePoint 2010, is that it takes a lot of time and effort for Microsoft to a get a “platform” of the size and depth of SharePoint through its development and quality assurance processes.
As such they are not as nimble and flexible as some of the smaller companies providing consumer ‘social media’ products on the public web. So, while the corporate micro-blogging features of SP2010 might not be as advanced as Twitter or Yammer, that is only to be expected, and this is where NewsGator and the other Microsoft partners in the ‘SharePoint ecosystem” come into play.
For NewsGator, focusing on enhancing particular niche areas of the product means they can iterate on 3 to 4 months cycles, compared to MS’ 3 year cycle for the platform as a whole. Having said that, JB and Brian agreed with the basic premise of my article, and apparently so do their biggest customers. 12 out of the 13 biggest NewsGator customers when surveyed earlier this year responded that they see a need to augment the basic out of the box feature set of SharePoint 2010.
So, how does NewsGators Social Sites assist in filling the gaps identified in SP2010’s E2.0 smarts?
First, the Communities aspect of SP2010 is, as Brian describes it, somewhat of a ‘virtual’ construct. It is basically Team Site collaboration with some additional features, such as being able to check out who is using the same tag’s as you for categorizing content.
Social Sites adds a template and bunch of additional features to create a true “community” site for your COP’s and COI’s:
- Declared membership (who else is in this community)
- Aggregated events in the in the activity stream
- A selection of admin tools such as module selection, emailing and usage reporting
Any Team Site can be converted into a Social Sites Community by activating a SP ‘feature’, or sites can be created from scratch by using a Wizard
NewsGator enhancements to Communities
Talking of activity streams, OOB SharePoint 2010 is a very ‘flat’ list type of experience, and Social Sites expands this area of functionality greatly by integrating directly into the SharePoint 2010 activity store. It gathers far more events including document additions, wiki creation, people joining communities, discussions, microblogging, votes and comments, etc.
It also gathers events that come from communities without requiring you to add each member as a colleague. Filtering capabilities are provided too, so that you can restrict your focus to particular colleagues or communities.
Social Sites builds on the SharePoint model for using email for digests and notifications, and again reporting capabilities have been built in. See the table below to compare basic SP2010 to Social Sites 2010 features:
I mentioned Microblogging -- think Twitter or Yammer -- in the section above. Base SP2010 does not really provide what most people would consider microblogging. It does offer a way of communication by leaving messages on individual users Noteboard’s -- very reminiscent of leaving someone a message on their FaceBook ‘Wall’.
Social Sites adds features that create a much more Twitter or Yammer like experience. Updates -- or posts -- can be targeted to specific users or communities, they can be “liked” and commented on, adding much more interaction. Twitter style hashtags can be used and searched on, and there is integration with mobile clients.
Enhanced Microblogging via Social Sites
NewsGator created or acquired most of the big desktop RSS clients for Windows and Mac, and created an RSS reader plug-in for MS Outlook long before that became standard functionality, so they know the client application end of the business.
It’s not surprising then that both an iPhone and Blackberry client are scheduled for release this summer. Interestingly though, there is also going to be a desktop application, so that if you don’t always have the SharePoint sites open in a browser, you can still view and interact with your selected Activity Streams. It will run minimized and alert you with a small pop-up (if you have ever used NewsGators FeedDemon desktop RSS reader you will remember that kind of notification).
As I mentioned feed readers above, that gives us a nice segway into what was originally NewsGator's area of expertise -- the handling of ‘news feeds’. SharePoint could always provide an RSS feed from nearly any list or page, but SP2010 now publishes ATOM as well as RSS.
Social Sites extends SP’s functionality, securely aggregating any number of RSS feeds from any set of sources including from within SP2010 itself. This is important as apparently SP2010 still has problems consuming its own feeds if Kerberos authentication is not setup properly in your Active Directory.
Social Sites adds filtering and group articles for specific uses, and supports multiple feeds on both mobile and desktop clients as well as in Social Sites web parts for SharePoint.
Social Sites enhanced RSS webparts
Alternative Options To Extend Social Capabilities
Other partner organisations in the SharePoint ecosystem provide different approaches to extending SharePoint’s basic collaboration / social computing (e.20) functionality. For example:
- Atlassian Confluence -- An enterprise Wiki platform that integrates with SharePoint and provides enhanced wiki and blog functionality.
- Jive Connects -- A module for connecting Jive's Social Business Software suite to SharePoint, enhances discussions and blogs, and uses SBS to ‘socialise’ SharePoint content across your organization.
- Bamboo Solutions -- Provides add on WebParts, including some for collaboration and social computing.
- Ektron -- Ektron’s CMS400 is a web / intranet content management system that integrates with SharePoint.
- Telligent -- Community Server Evolution integrates with SharePoint to enhance forums, blogs and wikis.
As you can see from short list, there are integrations ranging from connections to full software suites (e.g. Jive SBS) to simple add on web parts. What can be seen however, is that non of these options really take the NewsGator deep integration approach to extending SharePoint’s functionality. Also note there is little specific information about SP2010 at any of these links.
Are You Ready For Enterprise Collaboration?
From the context of my original article evaluating SP2010 as an “Enterprise 2.0 platform” I would suggest that NewsGator’s Social Sites product provides very useful additional functionality that would certainly plug the gaps, and might raise my evaluation against the SLATES model by principally improving the Authorship, Extensions and Signals elements.
However I noted that the NewsGator client list is full of very large pharmaceutical, aerospace and defence and financial organizations, and JB confirmed that their typical customer is of 10,000 or more knowledge workers.
So once again I find myself closing off an article by repeating my standard warnings about deploying enterprise software in a knowledge management context -- you need to be ready for this from an organizational culture perspective.
If you are not ready to share information, if you are not ready for loose collaboration across the whole organization, whether you are all in one office building or spread across the globe, then neither Social Sites nor out of the box SharePoint 2010 is going to help you -- software is just software.
You need to have strategies, planning and change management to ensure your people can derive value from their day to day use of their tools.