This is the third article in the series “What is This SharePoint Thing All About Anyway?” and in this article we are going to be looking at the concept of SharePoint Communities and how you could use them to improve your current working environment.
Communities are a concept within SharePoint that provides a way for users to come together based on experience, needs and general working relationships. We will look at several key elements of communities in SharePoint before exploring how to utilize them to your best advantage in your work environment.
What is a Community?
Before we dive into the technical details, let’s take a look at the high level concepts of community. Even if you don’t recognize it, you are probably involved in a countless number of communities. They can be small groups or very large groups. As a member of the community you provide input. This can be small or large and can depend greatly on your level of expertise or interest.
Communities bring people together around common ideas and values. The community grows based on the involvement and commitment to the topic that brought them together.
If you take this idea and apply it to the work environment, we are naturally placed in communities. Some of these communities are very structured, such as departments or project teams, and some communities could be more ad hoc and based on particular interests.
Within my department we are all dedicated to providing services (structured) but there is a small subset of us that has a level of expertise using some specific tools (unstructured). As we are building different solutions as part of our service agreements, it is very common for the smaller unstructured community to work together to design and build the overall solution. We just naturally work together on various items because we have similar interest and skill sets.
This is just one example of communities working together. If you take a few minutes and think through your common daily activities, I imagine you will be able to identify several different communities within your organization.
Understanding the Tools
There are several primary tools that are available within SharePoint that bring communities together. As each of these tools is implemented and used as part of a larger solution, communities are enhanced.
- My Sites: My Sites are a location to share information about you with others in the organization. Users will be able to access your public profile and see common elements about you as well as view the latest information that you have been working on (if they have permission to view the content).
- Tags: Tags are a way to classify and organize information within the organization. As users access content they are able to add tags to the content. Other users will then be able to see those tags on the user’s profile.
- Presence Information: By displaying the presence information next to the user in SharePoint you can quickly access other team members. Because of the integration with Outlook you will have immediate access to the user's schedule and with Lync you can easily start an IM dialog from the user's name on the SharePoint site. Having these tools allow you to be immediately connected to each other.
- Ratings: Ratings are a way for users to rate content within the environment. Ratings are based on a 5 star system and allow for those accessing the content to quickly see the relevance of the content as determined by the audience.
- Organizational Browser: Using this tool, users can easily see an organization chart with details from the user’s profiles. This browser is located within My Sites and allows for you to quickly navigate between peers and direct reports.
- Colleagues: This feature is located on the My Sites and will suggest colleagues to you based on your activity. This provides a way for you to connect and collaborate with like-minded users within your organization. The suggestion tool allows a way for you to connect with users that you may not realize have similar interests and activities.
Hopefully from this list you are seeing several different components that could be helpful as you work together connecting with various teams. Each organization may determine to use these features differently and some may focus more heavily on some areas over others. This is pretty common, and it is also what makes SharePoint such a great investment! Because you can pick and choose the features that make the most sense to your organization, you can easily build a very custom and unique solution.
How Do They Work?
The Social features within SharePoint are heavily dependent on the User Profile Services. These Services are configured within the server and run based on a series of the timer jobs. These timer jobs run in the background and allow for items to be updated over time. This allows for you to access your My Site and see the latest information since the timer job last ran. As the timer jobs continue to run in the background updated information will be displayed within the user profiles.
When you are ready to get started with the Social features inside of SharePoint the best thing to do is to refer to your internal governance policy. The governance policy should map out how the features will be implemented in your environment and how you would need to go about accessing those features.
If you find that these features have not been activated within your environment, you would need to work directly with your server administrators to configure them. Once they have been configured, the best place to start would be exploring your My Site public profile. From here you can add information about yourself as well as see information about others within your organization. Be sure to take some time to explore!
Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading:
- SharePoint 15: 8 Things to Help You Prepare by @druadh20
- Using SharePoint to Communicate Organizational Structure Effectively by @scribbleagency
- The Art of SharePoint Success: Transition - There's No Such Thing as a SharePoint Project by @symon_garfield