I’m in the middle of a series on SharePoint collaboration. In the first two posts, I focused on why SharePoint collaboration fails and how you can take steps to ensure that it succeeds.

In this post, I want to step back a bit and ask a more existential question: should you even be using SharePoint 2010 for your collaboration platform in the first place?
 

To answer this, we need first to compare SharePoint to the other options out there for enterprise collaboration, i.e., best-of-breed, purpose-built social computing platforms, like Jive, Lotus Connections or Socialtext. Then, we need to look at what kind of collaboration you’re planning on doing, because that’s really what should drive your decision to use a given tool.

Apples and Oranges

It’s important to acknowledge from the start that SharePoint 2010 and purpose-built social computing platforms are very different kinds of products with fundamentally different aims.

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Figure 1 – Functional Profiles and Areas of Focus for SharePoint 2010 and Purpose-built Social Computing Platforms

As you can see in Figure 1, SharePoint 2010 is mostly a content management platform, with some social capabilities built on top; whereas purpose-built social computing platforms are, not surprisingly, primarily social platforms with some content management capabilities built on top.

So as we turn now to look at whether you should use SharePoint for your collaboration platform, it’s important to keep in mind that SharePoint 2010 is not and was never meant to be a social computing platform, although it has some capabilities in this arena. The question is whether these capabilities, alone or augmented by an ISV, will be enough for your organization.

Enterprise 2.0 Stack

Rather than tee up a function-by-function comparison of SharePoint 2010 and purpose-built social computing platforms, which would be mind-numbingly boring and not all that useful, let’s start from a conceptual view of Enterprise 2.0 capabilities.

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Figure 2 – Enterprise 2.0 Capabilities Stack

As you can see, this is a pretty comprehensive list. Even if you found a vendor who provided all of these (and there are a couple out there), I would question whether you really truly needed all of them.

But leaving aside what you might or might not need, the fact is, most purpose-built social computing platforms provide a good portion of these (in different combinations depending on product), while SharePoint 2010 addresses only about 75% of the capabilities presented in this stack, as Figure 3 shows.

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Figure 3 – SharePoint 2010 Capabilities in the Enterprise 2.0 Stack

And of the E2.0 capabilities SharePoint 2010 does provide, those related to information management and user experience are its strong suit (highlighted in green) -- it’s far weaker in terms of more explicitly social capabilities, like notifications, profile management, authoring and publishing, and so on (highlighted in orange).

What You Need to Do Determines What You Need to Use

How SharePoint 2010 and purpose-built social computing platforms compare based on the E2.0 stack makes sense based on the fundamental differences between them we examined at the beginning of the post:

  • SharePoint 2010 is a content management tool with a smattering of social computing capabilities added in, the most visible of which is the revamped MySites -- which are a much-needed improvement over the MOSS 2007 MySites.
  • Social computing platforms, on the other hand, are (duh) social computing tools with a smattering of content/document management capabilities added in.

The answer to the question, should you even be using SharePoint 2010 for your collaboration platform in the first place?, depends first of all on what kind of collaboration you’ll be doing.

For document-based collaboration, SharePoint 2010 is a contender. Its document management capabilities are head and shoulders above purpose-built social computing platforms, and its workflow and routing capabilities, while meager compared to tools like FileNet or Documentum, are “good enough” for the kind of collaboration required for unstructured documents at most enterprises.

For other kinds of collaboration, SharePoint 2010 is much weaker.

  • Conversation-centric -- quick, dynamic collaboration enabled by microblogging
  • Community-centric -- sustained, networked collaboration enabled by vibrant discussion forums and active membership
  • Content-centric -- asynchronous collaboration enabled by ranking, rating, and sharing content with others
  • Expertise-centric -- knowledge-based collaboration enabled by reputation and activity tracking as well as the ability to search on more than just documents

If you’re looking to enable one or more of these kinds of collaboration, you’ll need to go beyond SharePoint 2010, either by using a purpose-built social computing platform or by augmenting SharePoint 2010 with a third-party product to extend its social capabilities (e.g., NewsGator).

The decision will also depend on whether you already have SharePoint in place, what version, and how big a footprint it has, as well as whether you really need an enterprise collaboration platform or whether you would be better served by a more vertical, targeted approach.

The Final Word

Although the decision of whether you should use SharePoint 2010 as your collaboration platform will take more than simply reading this post to answer, hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought.

And if you want to read more on the subject, you can take a look at a more detailed whitepaper on the subject and also get it directly from the horse’s mouth:

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from folks out there who disagree with my take on SharePoint 2010’s collaboration capabilities, my view on purpose-built social computing platforms, or anything else in here -- jump in, share your thoughts, and let’s get the conversation going!