2014-09-July-Spiderwebs.jpgIf Microsoft has its way, big data is coming to your Office 365 environment very soon.

In March of this year Jared Spataro, general manager of Enterprise Social at Microsoft, introduced Office Graph and challenged us to “work like a network.” Office Graph -- which derived from Yammer’s Enterprise Graph concept -- analyzes user metadata from the Office 365 environment (Yammer, SharePoint Online, Lync and Office Online) to identify signals, trends, relationships, social connections and content that relate to each other to form patterns that can be used to deliver a more relevant and rich contextual end user experience.

This rich set of metadata is meant to provide a more comprehensive picture of who you are connected to, who you interact with and how you interact within the enterprise. This is a new frontier for Microsoft and this technology will significantly change how you collaborate, work, connect and engage within the online enterprise going forward.

Social Graph - Enterprise and Office Graph's Predecessor

Social Networks have been using Social Graph concepts for years and have applied the big data concepts to how they engage with the user community on the platform. Facebook is an early pioneer in using Social Graph to enhance how it interacts with the 1.3 billion global users.

Facebook uses Social Graph to suggest new people to follow, show how you are connected to your friends and most importantly (for Facebook) push relevant ads to your Facebook page. Have you ever noticed that once you like something on Facebook your advertisements change accordingly or new suggested pages or people to follow appear? This is Social Graph in action; Facebook has a rich profile of your user data and it captures and mines this information using Social Graph concepts.

If this doesn’t ring a bell, you may have (inadvertently) heard of the Social Graph during the recent blowback over the Emotion Manipulation Study run by Facebook data scientist Adam Kramer in 2012. This "big data" experiment used data mined from the test subjects using the Social Graph algorithms.

LinkedIn uses something similar to the Social Graph to suggest new colleagues and jobs that you may be interested in based on your Profile, Education, Job Title, etc. Because all of this social activity is based in the cloud databases that run the social network, the vendor can mine the data for signals, trends, relationships and other useful metadata elements that can be used in determining how everything relates to each other. Microsoft’s Office Graph uses these same concepts and applies them to Office 365, Office Online, Microsoft Dynamics (CRM) Online and more.

Yammer developed Enterprise Graph to do similar things with the Yammer network. The concept of mining metadata stored in the Social Network databases is not new to social platforms, but Microsoft has taken this concept one step further as it integrated Enterprise Graph concepts into the Office 365 platform which provides access to this metadata. Rich metadata about specific users and their activities in Office 365 exists across all Microsoft products (SharePoint Online, Lync, Office, CRM, etc.). Oslo brings all of this together into a cohesive picture of what you do and how it relates to others to provide a richer user experience -- the connected enterprise.

Codename Oslo - The First Office Graph Based Solution

Update: Microsoft announced the official name of Codename Oslo today -- Delve.

Microsoft acquired FAST in 2008 to augment its enterprise search solution in SharePoint 2010. FAST has significantly enhanced enterprise search in SharePoint 2013 by improving its ability to find and present information of all types in ways never before possible. One of the biggest issues with enterprise search is that users have to enter a search term to allow the engine to find the content they are looking for.

This pull model, having to pull the information to you, is a major sore point with SharePoint search. Users want content and information to follow them based on their role in the company, what they are working on and who they work with. Microsoft has tried to solve this problem with the social features in SharePoint and the “follow” concept. You can follow a document, person, site, blog or any other item in SharePoint but this only goes so far in tying all of the related elements of social, documents, content, conversations, connections and other related signals together.

The FAST team used the experience they developed with advanced Search and applied Office Graph algorithms to Oslo creating a solution that brings content, people, relationships and items that may be of interest to you based on your role and your relationships in your organization to your browser. The solution essentially shifts the direction of search from a pull model to a push model thus making it easier for the end user to sift through email, social conversations, documents, sites, meetings and other content that help map the relationships between you and the people you work with in a new and profound way. In essence, Oslo surfaces content based on how it relates to you through various filters.

How Oslo Works

Office Graph identifies who you are connected to through various signals. Oslo makes connections based on the following criteria:

  • Who I send email to (pulled from the recipient cache in Microsoft Exchange)
  • Distribution lists in Microsoft Exchange
  • Document co-authors (people who co-modified documents in SharePoint)
  • Who I share content with (initially these will be documents you share on OneDrive for Business)

Future versions of Oslo will provide an API for third parties to send additional signals to Office Graph that will create new connections outside of Office 365.

Oslo provides users with the following refiners:

  • Content presented to me -- This filter integrates with Microsoft PowerPoint. For example: if you have a meeting on your calendar at the time you are presenting you can press F5 and the PowerPoint client will send a signal back to SharePoint detailing who attended the meeting with you. This signal is then processed by Office Graph and the Presented to me category is updated.
  • Shared with me -- This filter shows documents shared in your OneDrive for Business (formerly SkyDrive).
  • Modified by me -- This filter shows the documents in SharePoint that you have modified.
  • Trending around me -- This filter is based on people you are connected to, follow or are in your organization. Office Graph tracks what is viewed, liked and commented on by you and your connections.
  • Liked by me -- This filter shows any element that you have liked in SharePoint. Future versions will include integration with Yammer.
  • Viewed by me -- This filter shows any document you have viewed.
  • Direct reports -- This filter shows content from co-workers that are direct reports to you.
  • Manager -- This filter will show content from your Manager.
  • Works With -- This filter will show content from people that work with your connections.

The initial version of Oslo will be integrated with Yammer. For example, Yammer currently tracks comments from you and your connections based on conversations in the various groups you belong to. If you comment on a document using Oslo, and that document is not shared in Yammer, Oslo will create a graph object for the document in the Yammer Enterprise Graph. Deeper integration with Yammer will come in future versions.

The Insights Portal shows you the content that is related to you though the various signals and presents it in a magazine format.


Oslo Insights Portal – Source Microsoft

The People view shows you who you are following, your colleagues, managers and who they follow. This gives you a concise view of how you relate to the people in your organization.


Oslo People Portal -- Source Microsoft

The Cloud Makes it all Work

As discussed earlier, Office Graph operates on large datasets stored in the databases that hold content from Yammer, SharePoint, Office, Exchange, Lync (all online) and other environments. Office Graph algorithms operate on the metadata generated to find relationships, signals, trends and connections. The fact that Microsoft can use Office Graph on these datasets created in Microsoft’s cloud environment means Oslo will likely be a cloud only solution going forward. It will be difficult for Microsoft to implement this type of solution in an on-premises environment.

Microsoft has been telling customers that the social feature set between SharePoint online and SharePoint on-premises will diverge in the not too distant future. In his blog post in March, Jared Spataro wrote:

We shipped basic social features with SharePoint Server 2013, and over the last year and a half I’ve had many people ask me whether they should implement SharePoint social or Yammer. My guidance has been clear and consistent: Go Yammer! While we’re committed to another on-premises release of SharePoint Server -- and we’ll maintain its social capabilities -- we don’t plan on adding new social features. Our investments in social will be focused on Yammer and Office 365.”

Microsoft’s message is clear -- there will be a growing gap in the social capabilities between the online and on-premises environments. Microsoft wants you to move to the cloud and these new capabilities will make a compelling argument to do so.

What the Future Holds

Microsoft will continue to develop Oslo and will likely incorporate Oslo and Office Graph into other areas of the Office 365 environments. Microsoft will be integrating social across the entire Office 365 experience. For example, you’re going to see social integrated into the Outlook Web App with the concept of a Group Calendar that shows group meetings embedded into and alongside your other calendar events and Yammer groups will be further incorporated into SharePoint Online with the Group Document Library.

Look for Yammer and social to be integrated into Line of Business (LOB) applications like Microsoft Dynamics CRM and other Dynamics products. Yammer will also be integrated with Lync and Skype going forward. As Yammer is integrated into these environments you’ll see the Office Graph opportunities expand.

Title image by Mo (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license