MOSS and Telligent Community Server 2008
Ever since its release, there have been questions about SharePoint's (MOSS') fitness as a web content management solution (see our article series on MOSS WCM). While the jury may still be out on this question, it does not appear to be deliberating on the question of SharePoint’s social features. Microsoft is continuing to improve its community features, they have also been working closely with a partner, Telligent, who can provide this functionality as a direct SharePoint integration. Funny thing is, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen these two products doing the tango. SharePoint Solutions has a service offering that does the exact same thing.

SharePoint’s Community Features

Yes, SharePoint does have social features like blogs and wikis. They have even been working hard to provide enhanced versions of this “adequate” out of the box capability via Codeplex. For example, we covered the Community Kit: Enhanced Blogging Edition not that long ago. In addition, you can also download the following community features for SharePoint from Codeplex: * Enhanced Wiki * Enhanced Discussion Board Edition * User Group Edition (1.0) * External Collaboration Toolkit for SharePoint (Community Edition) Microsoft has also recently provided a peek into their potential social networking solution: TownSquare. It is currently being prototyped within Microsoft's own organization but they have announced no plans to take it public any time soon, if at all. It does demonstrate however that they are looking to improve on MOSS' out of the box collaboration and social media capabilities.

Telligent Community Server

The latest release of Telligent Community Server -- v2008 -- hit the street just over a month ago. Community Server is a .NET-based social computing platform that includes functionality such as: * Blogs * Forums * File and Photo Gallery * Support for User Generated Content * Integrated Ratings and Comments The latest release includes capabilities such as: * Integration with Active Directory, Exchange and SharePoint * Enterprise level reporting of community activity * Social Streams or Activity Feeds (similar to Movable Type's Action Streams) * Integration with Amazon S3 for storage * On demand groups/social circles * Widgets that enable the sharing of data between applications * A complete Web Services API based on REST for integration/expansion of the platform

SharePoint / Community Server Integration - It's Not New

At the Enterprise 2.0 conference last month, a number of vendors announced integration solutions for the MOSS 2007 platform. These included Atlassian, Awareness, NewsGator, Telligent and a few more. Lawrence Liu, Senior Technical Product Manager for Community and Social Computing at Microsoft told us that the "Platform + Partners" approach is directly related to Microsoft's success overall and that they continue to leverage that model for SharePoint/MOSS in the social computing space. "By working with our named partners in the Social Computing space, customers have the option to acquire additional functionality if they need it today to address their business needs. While we will continue to invest in improving SharePoint as a Business Productivity Platform in our future releases, we will also significantly enhance SharePoint’s Social Computing features and capabilities." The integration of Telligent's Community Server with SharePoint is an interesting one -- particularly in terms of the history of the integration.

Integration Pre-Community Server 2008

Prior to the latest release of the product, there was a lot of buzz about the integration of Community Server with SharePoint. Microsoft Partners out there, SharePoint Solutions and SharePoint Works specifically, were both offering consulting service solutions that integrated Community Server 2007 with SharePoint. It was only back in March that SharePoint Solutions announced their integration solution that included a common look and feel and shared mechanism for security. According to the company, they announced their solution at the time when there appeared to be no interest by Telligent to integrate the two products. Unfortunately, and likely a result of Telligent's announcement, SharePoint Solution's service offering never took off and they have no implementations to date. You can't even find the service offering on their website.

Integration with Community Server 2008

With Community Server 2008, Telligent has taken notice of the sales potential of the product duo. CMSWire had the opportunity to ask Rob Howard, the Telligent CEO, a few questions on this new integration solution. According to Howard, there were many independent solutions for building an integrated community when they built their product back in 2004. Today though, businesses want fewer vendors and integrated technology. "We’re now applying that same philosophy to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. Customers want simplicity, and Office SharePoint Server 2007 is becoming the platform of choice behind the firewall. But at the same time, SharePoint is also missing functionality in some core social computing areas. And that is value that we add . . . and what customers are demanding. Our belief remains that building an integrated platform is ultimately better for customers." As part of the Enterprise 2.0 conference announced, Telligent wrote a blog entry for the SharePoint MSDN blog discussing the basics of how the integration is done. They openly acknowledge that this integration is their opportunity to take Telligent Community Server behind the firewall. "...our plan is to seize the opportunities in this space by positioning Community Server as a complement to SharePoint and providing several key integration points."
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Sample Community Server Blog in SharePoint

So let's take a peak at how this integration is actually done.

How Community Server is Integrated with MOSS

We mentioned earlier that Community Server 2008 has a complete Web Services API based on REST. It's this API that is used to integrate the two platforms. It does this by providing full access to the Community Server application and administrative functionality.
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Sample Community Server Blog Response

Community Server 2008 is also able to utilize the same security mechanisms that SharePoint uses -- Active Directory and Forms-based Authentication being the two most popular. This enables them to tightly integrate their security model, moving seamlessly between the two platforms, based on a common security platform. In addition, Community Server 2008 provides an email gateway that allows Outlook users to participate in certain community activities without having to leave the coziness of their email client. Of course, no integration is complete without the development of a number of SharePoint WebParts. In this case: * Feature and Solution Deployment: Administrators can select what Community Server functionality they want deployed within SharePoint * Web Parts: Web parts that contain Community Server functionality such as blogs, social streams and more * Web Part Pages: Complete end-to-end Community Server "experience" * Event Receivers: Enables List and Document Libraries activities to be included in Community Server social streams * Search:SharePoint searches will include content stored directly in Community Server
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Sample Community Server Activity Stream in SharePoint

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Community Server WebParts

Telligent's Official Release Information for the Integration

So it all looks good and very promising. We asked when it would be officially released as the talk has been going on for quite awhile now. "We have a preview out now of the SharePoint integration. We’ll have a beta out in August of the new Community Server Evolution platform, and we will officially release soon thereafter. Evolution is a version of Community Server that has been tailored specifically for behind the firewall and goes much deeper than just Office SharePoint Server 2007—it integrates with Active Directory, Microsoft Exchange, and SharePoint. It’s all about bringing Community Server behind the firewall and truly integrating with our customers’ IT environments." Of course, we were also curious how much this integration software will cost organizations. "We’re still working on that. It will definitely be a per-seat license, probably around $50/seat annually. Pricing will scale for volume licenses, and that is the part we’re working on. We’ve already had several organizations with 3,000+ seats starting the conversation." You'll also notice that the price of the Professional Edition of Community Server has almost doubled with the new version. According to Howard the answer is "Simple, a change of focus. We’re focusing better on where the market is for this product. Community Server is best for organizations that are supporting decent-sized communities. We introduced another product earlier this year -- Graffiti CMS -- that is targeted more at small- to medium-sized businesses and is priced much more aggressively."

Microsoft's View of the Community Server Integration

The integration is a smart move by Telligent. SharePoint is the dominant collaboration and document management platform inside many organizations -- particularly those orgs with a Microsoft predisposition. For Telligent to offer a solution that integrates tightly around security and more will encourage these organizations to look to them first for their social media needs. What does Microsoft say about all this? They love it, of course. According to Lawrence Liu: "Community Server is used by many organizations (including Microsoft) as a online community solution with blogs and forums as the primary features. More and more of these organizations are using SharePoint for a variety of information management and collaboration scenarios. While SharePoint’s blogs and forums features are sufficient for some of these organizations, others would like to leverage their investments in Community Server but provide a seamlessly integrated user experience on SharePoint." Is the match made in heaven? For Microsoft and Telligent it is. With that said, it's less clear what it's going to do to the smaller/other Microsoft Partners such as SharePoint Solutions. But then Community Server is Telligent's baby and Microsoft's belle of the ball. The rest of the field will just have to adapt.