Friday, October 15, 2010

SharePoint 2010 Social Networking: Part 1 - Why?


The title of this blog post is intended to be a trick. The reason is that it is my opinion that there is no such thing as SharePoint 2010 Social Networking. Why? Because businesses don't need "social networking" features in SharePoint or any other software that is to be used primarily as an internal business application.

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Other Posts in this Series:
  • Part 2 - How does SharePoint 2010 Social Computing differ from other tools for knowledge networking?  Where does it fit in?
  • Part 3 - Infrastructure prerequisites for SharePoint 2010 Social Computing
  • Part 4 - Diagram - Social Computing Processes in SharePoint Server 2010
  • Part 5a - Intro and Bookmarking and Tagging Database Design
  • Part 5b - Bookmarking and Tagging User Experience
  • Part 5c - Browsing Bookmarks and Tags
  • Part 5d - Searching Bookmarks and Tags
  • Part ? - This series is a work-in-process. Stay tuned :)
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The good news is that SharePoint 2010 makes no attempt to foster "social networking", but it does provide some excellent new "social computing" tools that attempt to help us take a big leap forward in the area of "knowledge networking".

Knowledge Networking is something that virtually every business in the world needs to be concerned about and do a better job at. Better sharing and dissemination of company knowledge can definitely contribute to the success of a company. Conversely, pure social networking has nothing at all to do with the mission of a business and while it naturally occurs in the workplace, too much of it can certainly harm a business. How can you make money if you spend all of your time socializing at work instead of working? It's not possible.

You might think that I am splitting hairs here. But, I don't think so because I have spent the last nine months teaching our SharePoint 2010 training classes around the U.S. and have observed what our students think about the "social" aspects of SharePoint 2010 and discovered a lot of wrong thinking.

Here are some of the most frequent comments I hear from our students:

  • STUDENT: Can you turn the "social" features off? ME: Why do you want to do that? STUDENT: People in our organization would just waste time with this stuff.
  • STUDENT: We already use Facebook, why do we need this stuff in SharePoint? ME: (I wish I could reveal to you the organization that I last heard this one from, you wouldn't believe it)
  • STUDENT: The bosses at our company would never understand this. So, while I like the features and see how they could be useful for knowledge sharing, I doubt we will be allowed to turn it on.

Have there been any students in any of the classes that really like the features and think that they can provide major business benefits to their organization? Yes, there are a few, but they are definitely in the minority.

My opinion as to why this is happening is that there is a problem with how the features are being communicated (by Microsoft as well as throughout the SharePoint Community - including my company). Terminology is part of the problem ("social networking" being used instead of "social computing") and understanding intended use and benefits is also part of the problem (we don't talk enough about how the features foster "knowledge networking" which is the primary use case).

In literature, web pages and presentations, Microsoft officially refers to the feature-set as Social Computing in SharePoint 2010. I definitely think that is a better term to use than Social Networking in SharePoint 2010 and Microsoft is wise to make this distinction.

Unfortunately, the distinction doesn't seem to be taking hold that well. One way to tell is by taking a look at the Google Keyword Suggestions when typing "sharepoint 2010 social" in the search box:



Since the Google Keywords Suggestions list is generated based on popularity of search terms and volume of related content, what does this tell us? The highest number of searchers are thinking the term "social networking" when they go to search for information about this set of SP 2010 features AND finding content, even though SharePoint 2010 does not really have any features that are intended for "social networking".

Why does Microsoft refer to the feature-set as Social Computing instead of Knowledge Networking when the primary purpose of the features are to foster knowledge networking? Well, I don't pretend to know the mind of Microsoft, but one possible reason that comes to mind is that "Social Computing" is a hip, modern, popular term. It's probably a lot better for marketing purposes than "Knowledge Networking" which sounds too much like yesterday even though the need and problems are still important today.

I've spent a lot of time over the last nine months digging into the Social Computing (a.k.a. Knowledge Networking) aspects of SharePoint 2010. I think I have a fairly good grasp on what all of the features are and how they are intended to be used and how they can help improve knowledge sharing in organizations. If you are interested in this subject, please come back every week or so and I promise to carefully and thoroughly walk through all of these features.
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