My Sites in SharePoint have always been a divisive subject. Some people love them, others aren’t so keen. SharePoint 2010 brought with it a huge improvement in the features and functionality available in My Sites, and the next version of SharePoint is likely to see a similar leap forward. It would be a big surprise if these "next generation My Sites" didn’t take some directions from the world of social networking -- Facebook, Twitter and others.

SharePoint 2010 was released in the middle of 2010. Social networking was big, but it's grown a whole lot bigger since. Functionality has moved on and user expectations have been raised considerably. My Sites have a lot of catching up to do if they are to offer the enterprise anything close to the experience users receive on the web. So will Microsoft take inspiration from social networking sites or choose to work with them?

The Inspired Approach

Microsoft may well choose to take inspiration from some of the more popular features currently being used by the social web. If they do I’d like to see some of the following:

  • Proper rating ("liking") of all content on a SharePoint system. That includes sites, pages, lists, items, documents. If I can see it, I want to be able to rate it.
  • Enhanced status functionality ("microblogging"). SharePoint 2010 introduced basic status updates. I’d like to see a proper Twitter style implementation, or something similar to the things the Yammer guys are doing. This includes interaction with other users, private messages and a history log.
  • Officially supported apps (iOS, Android, Windows) would also be great. The latest Windows phones have built-in SharePoint functionality, and a multiple of third party apps do currently exist. But I’d like to see "proper" app support for more devices. The typical business user is no longer tied to the desktop, intranets should be similarly set free.

The problem with this approach is that the web moves on, and quickly. SharePoint 2010 clearly took some inspiration from social networking with its My Sites. Any new version will be an improvement, but will just as quickly go out of date.

Working with Existing Social Networking Sites

A much more interesting approach, and therefore unfortunately much more unlikely, would be for Microsoft to embrace other social networking platforms rather than try to ignore them. A key factor to the success of a social networking platform, be it out on the web or behind company firewalls, is user adoption. Put very simply, users expect to see their peers on the site, and expect to see content and information about those peers. Without either a site will struggle.

In the context of enterprise systems, making users available to each other is easy enough. They are simply added to the system by the IT department. However, encouraging users to populate their biographies, write blogs posts and status updates, and generally add content can be much more difficult. My suggestion? Don’t even try.

Instead, why not turn My Sites into giant aggregators of content pulled in from other sites? Instead of asking users to add a whole heap of information they have already added elsewhere, make good use of what they have already done. Instead of asking users to post updates and content to multiple sites, just use the content they have already posted. Some specific examples:

  • Allow users to automatically import their Twitter accounts and use this content for status updates and messaging. Specific hash tags can be used to mark out content suitable for the intranet.
  • Display biography, CV and "skill set" information directly from LinkedIn profiles.
  • Allow crossposting of Wordpress or Blogger content. Build in an approval step so each post has to be formally approved for inclusion on the intranet.

A comprehensive rating and commenting system could allow users to add a narrative to this imported content. This narrative would be native to SharePoint and provide context and background specific to the SharePoint system.

The immediate response of many people to this suggestion is “I like to keep my web and my work separate, thank you very much.” Firstly, that is fine. Each and every piece of content would need to be approved for inclusion on the Intranet before it appeared. Secondly, this stuff isn’t hidden out on the web and users are slowly coming round to the idea that their is no "delete" button out there. If you have written it, and your name is next to it, then whether you like it or not someone will find it. So why not embrace your own content and make the most use of it?

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