Last month I dove into the problems that SharePoint brings to the workplace. Matt Ranlett, a colleague, didn't completely agree with me and addressed some of those points. But before we nip this "he said, he said" in the bud once and for all, let me offer a couple of clarifications.

A Few Clarifications

Let's take a closer look at some of Matt Ranlett's responses to my article and provide some additional clarifications:

1. SharePoint as the Be All.. End All..

Mr. Ranlett acknowledged that I had valid arguments related to my core idea that Microsoft markets SharePoint as a panacea despite its affordance for overly simplistic implementation patterns which more often than not lead to the same information management problems that SharePoint was brought in to solve (ok, Matt didn't exactly agree with that, but he got where I was coming from).

The article continues on pointing out that many packaged software products can be implemented poorly. Mr. Ranlett's article fails to account for three critical points here:

  1. Microsoft sets itself apart from the industry in how it courts business users, wanna-be developers and mediocre developers. Its ability to embed itself into an enterprise through rapid but unscalable progress is awesome. Some people say that Microsoft is not user-centered and I vehemently disagree. Microsoft is user-centered, they're just oriented to a different user-base: their army of developers. Don't misread this as me saying that all Microsoft developers are, at best, mediocre. This is patently untrue. There are many extremely qualified Microsoft developers and architects out there; however, the mediocre ones are legion and SharePoint beckons both them, and the executive in search of the quick fix, like a siren on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea.
  2. I never argue in favor of the pre-packaged software products mentioned in the rebuttal article or otherwise. I do argue in favor of solutions which lend themselves to being more rapidly adaptable to the changing needs of today's enterprise; i.e., the cloud vendors.
  3. I'm actually not ranting about SharePoint in and of itself. I'm ranting about the prevalent dynamic where the packaged software is implemented mostly by engineers without qualified designers, strategists or architects. SharePoint currently stands head and shoulders above the others as the poster child for poor implementations across industries. Mr. Ranlett should actually be cheering me on given that I'm actually arguing in favor of the absolute necessity of using truly talented professionals, like him, when looking to implement SharePoint (or any other package).

2. On SharePoint's OTB User Experience

Mr. Ranlett agrees with me that "SharePoint’s out of the box user interface leads users towards isolated information silos" and that "SharePoint can be done well, but is frequently not." The article proceeds in saying that this is by design and is somehow a good thing because it empowers people. This philosophy is overly simplistic and belies the fallacy that pervades so many of the interactions humans go through every day.

When a product is used in a way that is not intended, or fails to self-reveal its intended usage pattern, most people blame themselves. How many times have you heard or said the following: "I must be stupid! I just don't get this." Don Norman's masterpiece "The Design of Everyday Things" points out, more elegantly than I ever could, that we all need to stop blaming ourselves and blame the product design. This tendency for self-blame ultimately limits the pace at which products and services evolve and, in the realm of business software, hurts overall solution quality.

The attempts within the article to blame users and governance models are the same cop-outs that old-school IT has been churning out for the last 25 years. If we ever want the ridiculous dysfunction that exists between IT and business to get better, then each and every IT professional needs to stop using these excuses and demand something greater of ourselves and each other. 

3. On SharePoint's Browser Support

Thumbnail image for spBrowserSupport.png
The article says that my claim of reliance on Internet Explorer is patently untrue. Try taking a look at Microsoft's article on browser support for SharePoint 2010 and tell me who has their facts straight.The list of browsers supported is one major version out of date on Safari, 5 major versions out of date for FireFox, and Chrome is not mentioned at all. The details on the browsers it does support makes me want to laugh and cry simultaneously.

I don't blame you if you are among the readers not interested in doing the research themselves. I'd rather have a lobotomy than actually try to read, understand and integrate this doc into my enterprise development plans. I've attempted to make my point very understandable without having to read the full article. The illegible image at right, that goes on for the next several paragraphs, is a miniaturized screen shot of Microsoft's actual article on SharePoint browser support. A near plurality of the content is devoted to what doesn't work on the browsers it "does" support.

Editor's Note: Microsoft SharePoint Online does have different browser compatibility.

4. SharePoint Version What?

Mr. Ranlett mistakenly claims that my initial complaint was based on SharePoint 2007 which is 5 years old. First off, my personal experience with SharePoint spans several versions and my article reflects my experience with all of them including 2010. What's interesting is that in the face of my claim that cloud based offerings, due in-part to their innate flexibility could significantly compete against SharePoint (if the product strategists and marketers got their acts together), Mr. Ranlett is actually defending a product that only has major releases come every three to four years. And this doesn't even take into account the fact that a large part of the Microsoft customer base skips versions of SharePoint and other Microsoft products because of the pain and expense involved in upgrading!

Saying that SharePoint is more flexible because it is laden with features is just not true. Case in point -- Yes SharePoint 2010 has the ability to tag content, but Gmail has had it since 2005! I'm not sure flexibility equals 5 years and 2 versions to address the biggest user headache of the product. And let's not forget search (another thing Google excels at and is a workable solution to the sprawl that Mr. Ranlett and I both condemn) is actually the biggest user headache of the product, and Microsoft still hasn't gotten this one right.

Innovation isn't accomplished by adding a new feature. Innovation is accomplished when you redefine and transcend the problem.

Some Favorite Observations

Robert Scoble also predicted that the public social networks would start courting enterprises with an aim to leverage their platforms and existing networks for use as enterprise social networks. Even without Mr. Scoble's reiteration of my prediction (and whoever else predicted it before or after me), I stand behind my statement that the opportunity to go after SharePoint is just too big and too obvious for the product strategists at Salesforce, Google and Facebook to not go after it. In fact, Salesforce already is going this way with Chatter. Once Salesforce starts attacking the branding problem (e.g., "Salesforce makes CRM software for salespeople right?"), we'll see how much progress they can make as SharePoint's competition.

I would like to point out that the article comparing SharePoint to Chatter is dead wrong in its claim: you have to be a Salesforce customer to use Chatter. There actually is a free version available to anyone. Here's my favorite observation: remember SharePoint's oxymoronic browser support article referenced above? Check out the browser support doc for Chatter.

The one topic I won't redress here is the one woven throughout Mr. Ranlett's article: the need for vigilant governance in any ECM and intranet approach. After all, I need to have something to write about in the next article don't I?