SharePoint Conference 2018 kicked off yesterday with an hour and 45 minute keynote delivered to an audience of over 3000 at the MGM hotel in Las Vegas and countless others watching the live broadcast from the comfort of their homes, as I did. Jeff Teper, Microsoft corporate VP, Seth Patton, general manager of Office 365 product marketing, Omar Shahine, director of program management OneDrive and SharePoint, and Dan Holme, director of product marketing SharePoint led a presentation packed with a number of announcements including news related to SharePoint hub sites, communications sites, OneDrive, integrations with Teams, and introduced a whole new type of site, SharePoint Spaces. 

Here's a quick rundown of what they covered.

New Features for SharePoint Intranets

One part of the keynote focused on the new features and functionality in SharePoint Communication sites and Hub sites, but the real focus was on moving beyond SharePoint to the broader Office 365-based digital workplace.

  • Communication site news web parts — Communication sites have new filtering options for the news web parts, giving you more choice in the sources you pull from, and the way you format and display news.
  • Hub sites news update — Hub sites also have new features for rolling up news from various communication sites, including pinning articles at the top of the feed.
  • Organizational news — Communications professionals can now tag news as “organizational” news, which will give that news a different visual presentation and will push it to the top of the news feed. Feeds can include a mix of departmental, group/ divisional, and top level organizational news, and the corporate comms people can be happy their articles can be seen.
  • @mentions — Comments on articles can now include @mentions to draw a colleague's attention to an article and bring them into the discussion.
  • Updated Yammer web parts — On top of the above, the updated Yammer web part adds new features to make embedding a Yammer feed more useful, such as: liking, @mentions and adding content.
  • Text overlay — The image web part now allows you to simply overlay text on an image.
  • Microsoft Flow approvals — New out-of-the-box approval workflows for both pages, and for adding a site to a Hub.
  • New metadata management — Microsoft designed a new easy to use interface to make it easier to tag pages with additional metadata.
  • Enhancements to the mobile client — A number of new features and functionality were added to the iOS and Android mobile clients.
  • Microsoft Teams – Microsoft improved the integration of both SharePoint document libraries and planner into Teams. “Full page” views added to tabs in Teams provide more of the native interface functionality. For SharePoint document libraries, this means seeing and manipulating all of the metadata columns.

Microsoft's focus on improving the way both Sharepoint document libraries and planner work in tabs in the Teams interface reinforces my opinion from last year that Teams is the portal, with a small p, as in "the way in to information." User interface design experts have known for decades that switching interfaces is difficult for some people, and the context switch can confuse them and hinder their productivity. 

Focusing on the Teams interface makes sense in this context, because from there you can get to conversations in the Teams channels, SharePoint document libraries, Planner tasks and Kan-ban boards, and eventually, all the voice and video synchronous conferencing functionality of Skype.

Related Article: Is Microsoft Teams the 'Portal' We've Been Looking For?

SharePoint Lists Get Some Love

The List concept in SharePoint often seems to get forgotten, overshadowed by the website-type functionality and the Document Libraries, but this keynote included a lot of love for lists:

  • Creation options — Create a list by importing an Excel sheet, by copying an existing list, or by using new, easier to create List templates.
  • Edit in place — Edit values without changing views or going into properties.
  • PowerBI integration — Mine your data for actionable insight and create charts and other visualizations using PowerBI.
  • Flow for cognitive analysis — Send any text to the “AI” engine using Microsoft Flow. Sentiment analysis was used as an example here. Using the new Row Formatting, you can easily see whether the sentiment is positive or not: green row versus red row.
  • Flow and Visio — If you used to create custom workflows using SharePoint Designer, you can now map out your workflow in Visio Online and export it to Flow.
  • Forms for upload – Microsoft Forms can now be used to upload documents or files to a SharePoint document library.

Other announcements included new features in the SharePoint framework for customizing and extending sites, the admin console, the backend Office 365 compliance functionality, Microsoft Stream video and more. As per usual, the general Microsoft caveat applies: access to some of these features might be dependent on the level license you have. 

Related Article: Build 2018 Showcases Microsoft's Progress

Learning Opportunities

Introducing 'Spaces': Augmented Reality Meets SharePoint

SharePoint Spaces was the other really big announcement coming out of the keynote. An easy to use system for creating “spaces” for 3-D and augmented reality (AR) content for use with the Microsoft HoloLens AR headsets. The impressive demo showed how easy it is to create AR spaces and populate them with content. Creating this functionality as a type of SharePoint site seems like a good idea, although the demo left me more jealous than excited, as my organization is so far off from using this kind of tech.

Related Article: Virtual and Augmented Reality Are Ripe for the Enterprise

SharePoint 2019 Receives a Nod

For those still interested in on premises solutions, SharePoint 2019 was mentioned. As in the recent past, it is benefiting from the investments in the Office 365 online side of things, and so for example will soon receive “Modern” SharePoint site types, including Communications sites.

I was overall very pleased with the announcements. The announcements show Microsoft is continuing to listen to the voice of its users, to invest and to make improvements and fix issues at a rapid pace. Is Office 365 and SharePoint Online, or SharePoint on premises the perfect software platform? No, of course not, there is no such thing. But perfect is the enemy of good enough, and the robust features and functionality of these platforms could be good enough to meet many of your business needs and requirements.

As I write this on May 21, the conference has another two days to run, so keep an eye out for further news using the conference hashtag — #SPC18 — on Twitter.

Microsoft released a number of blog articles on the announcements which go into greater depth on all of the above:

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