For many years organizations have used SharePoint to create Intranet environments, a single location that can be used as a starting point to obtain all the information needed for employees to complete their work. Because SharePoint offered a rich set of tools that allowed for non-technical users to update the content, it became a platform of choice for many organizations. SharePoint 2013 offers additional functionality that will greatly enhance SharePoint’s capability for providing these types of solutions internally.

Let’s look at some of the web content management features that are going to make developing an intranet within SharePoint 2013 a much nicer experience.

Reuse Content Across Multiple Sites

One of the pain points experienced in previous versions of SharePoint was around the fact that content that was created within one site collection could not easily be reused in a separate site collection. Since many organizations required multiple site collections, this limitation created a few cases where duplicate content was required.

With 2013, the concept of Cross-Site publishing has been introduced. When using this feature you can store and manage content in one location and then display the content in other site collections. Using this approach you can display the data in as many places that are needed, while still only managing and maintaining one single point of truth.

Navigation and User Friendly Links

Next up, are the new navigation features and the ability to base a navigation structure off of an existing term set. In many cases this allows for organizations to more centrally manage their environments and to provide meaningful navigation structures within the multiple site collections in their environment.

In addition to these updates in navigation, new features have been included that allow for the creation of friendlier names when linking to pages and content within SharePoint. In previous versions of SharePoint you were required to have longer URLs that contained references to the specific location you were trying to access. Within SharePoint 2013 you can now configure the URL so that it can be more easily referenced. An example of this would be the following two URLs:

  • Previous SharePoint Versions: http://www.contoso.com/Pages/Computers.aspx#/ID=453&Source=http%3A%2F1010101
  • SharePoint 2013 Friendly URL: http://www.contoso.com/Computers/model101

You can see that by removing the required URL parameters for ID and Source you are able to create friendly, memorable URLs for your sites and pages.

Changing Web Parts

We have covered a few aspects of creating and accessing content, but in most Intranets there is also a need to be able to “gather” and “present” data to users. In previous versions of SharePoint this was done through either the Content Query Web Part or a custom Roll Up solution.

Because of limitations in performance, the Content Query Web Part was restricted in how it could be utilized across organizations. If you had many users who needed to roll up a large amount of content it is likely that you could experience performance issues in using the web part.

SharePoint 2013 adds a new web part that will allow you to provide the same functionality as the Content Query Web Part, but is instead based on the search functionality available within SharePoint. Because this web part is based on search, many of the existing limitations have been reduced.

Design Changes

In SharePoint 2013 there are many new techniques that can be used to aide in the branding and customization of your sites. One of the biggest impacts is the ability to create a SharePoint custom design in any design tool of choice. This means your designers are not limited to only working within SharePoint Designer to build their custom design.

This opens up many possibilities to teams that are familiar with popular design tools and have a preference of tool they prefer to work with. Once a designer is working within their selected tool they are able to design for device- specific viewing scenarios. This new feature allows for designers to create the desired experience for the expected devices that will be used to access the sites.

SharePoint 2013 Gets Social

So far in this article, all we have covered are small configuration improvements that bring big changes for the users accessing your intranet sites, but the types of things available to increase the value of your Intranet don’t end with just those changes. If we just stopped here, we would likely leave feeling let down and not overly excited about the newest features in SharePoint.  To really get to the heart of the matter and look at how we can make our Intranets better using SharePoint 2013, we need to switch topics slightly, and look at the new social features that have been made available.

For many years now the consumerization of IT has made it so that users in general have expectations when accessing content. The purpose of many corporate Intranets is to be the “go to” place where I can access all the information I need to complete my daily tasks. If I have a question about the organization, I need to look no farther than the pages of our internal intranet site.  

In many cases this gives me half the answer to my equation. I may have the information of what I need to do or who I need to talk with, but imagine if in addition to the information I was able to interact with others who have the same questions or if I was able to immediately connect with those who are experts in the subject I am looking into? What if, within SharePoint, we had a more centralized way to bring people to the data, along with a way to engage them in deeper conversations as well? The community template provides a way for this type of capability within SharePoint 2013.

Community templates have been designed in a way that allows anyone within the organization to join a community and to begin discussions on things relevant to the community. These communities are a great way to share information in a collaborative way, at the same time making intellectual property with the organization available to a larger audience.

Using these templates you are able to enhance your current environment by adding another layer of information that hasn’t traditionally been available in previous releases of SharePoint. Community templates are a way to bring different members of your organization together to allow for collaboration of a different type.

In addition to making it easier for people to come together, SharePoint community templates also provide some features that allow for them to be easily managed, including built-in moderation features. This means that you can still maintain a level of control within the discussions that are had over certain sensitive topics.

While community templates provide a way for different groups of communities to discuss things, Microblogging and personal feeds allow ways for users to communicate to those in their close circle of work associates. With the newest microblogging features, users will be able to start threads that include tags of other people and links to relevant content. By following other users within the organization I will be able to see items within their feeds and follow things that are relevant to them.

All of these features, combined together, provide tools that can be used by any organization to add a new set of exciting and rich features to their current corporate intranet solution. If you are looking for ways to spice up your users' experience with your current Intranet solution, you can definitely look to the features available within SharePoint 2013. Intranets are all about getting the data to users, but you don’t want to miss out on driving users to work collaboratively on the data once it is made available to them.

Editor's Note: If you're interested in reading more of Jennifer's thoughts on what SharePoint 2013 has in store, why not read The Death of SharePoint Designer?