Tuesday, December 14, 2010

SharePoint 2010 Training? Here's the Place to Start.

Your organization is implementing SharePoint 2010, and you need to learn to use it.

Where do you start?

SharePoint Solutions is pleased to announce our brand new introductory course in the basics of SharePoint 2010. Introduction to SharePoint 2010 – Using SharePoint Foundation 2010 is a 2-day hands-on course on the basic concepts and basic features of SharePoint 2010. The basic features covered in this course apply not only to SharePoint Foundation 2010, the free version of SharePoint, but to all editions of SharePoint 2010, since the other editions are built on the foundation of the free version.

Friday, December 10, 2010

SharePoint 2010 Social Networking: Part 4 - Diagram

I have created a diagram that attempts to give the "big picture" of how the social computing features and processes in SharePoint Server 2010 fit together:

(Note: This is the fourth post in this series. For the first post and a table of contents, go here.)

Social Computing Processes in SharePoint Server 2010

As you can see the diagram is a mix of functional and technical. In general that is my goal for this series of blog posts as well.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Add SharePoint Reminders Functionality to Your SharePoint 2010 Implementation

Some features are just so obvious that it might never occur to you that they’re not included in SharePoint 2010. Doesn’t it make sense that since SharePoint has a collaborative calendar feature, and alerting capabilities, that it would also have SharePoint Reminders functionality right out-of-the-box? Well, it doesn’t. And that lack has bothered people for quite some time. There just hasn’t been a really slick, elegant way to get that functionality into SharePoint. Until now.

SharePoint Solutions has added SharePoint Reminders functionality in the new version of our Alert Manager product, SharePoint Alert Manager for SharePoint 2010. It bolts transparently onto SharePoint 2010 and the SharePoint Reminders functionality shows up in the interface itself.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Ever Get Push-Back on Implementing SharePoint My Sites?

This is not technically a post that is part of my SharePoint 2010 Social Computing series of blog posts. But, it is relevant to that series.

I've noticed over the past seven years as a full-time SharePoint educator and consultant that I get more push-back on SharePoint My Sites than I ever would have expected. This phenomena happened in 2004 with SharePoint Portal Server 2003, and it continues to happen in 2010 with the latest version.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SharePoint 2010 Social Networking: Part 3 - Prerequisites

In this post on the SharePoint 2010 Social Computing feature-set, I am going to walk you through a number of prerequisites that have to be in place in your SharePoint environment before the social computing features will work at all.

(Note: This is the third post in this series. For the first post and a table of contents, go here.)

Before jumping into the details of the prerequisites, let me give you my master list of SharePoint 2010 Social Computing features that I plan to drill down into one by one during the next several posts:
  1. Tags
  2. Note Board
  3. Tag Profile pages
  4. Tags and Notes on My Site
  5. Tag search
  6. Tag and Notes bookmarklet
  7. Tag cloud web part
  8. Ratings
  9. Status Updates
  10. Activity Feed / Newsfeed
  11. Activity Feed preferences
  12. Recent Activities web part on My Site public profile
  13. Extensibility of Activity Feed
  14. Add Colleagues feature
  15. Keyword and Colleagues Suggestions feature
  16. “Interests” field on User Profile record
  17. “Ask Me About” field on User Profile record
  18. Integration with Outlook 2010
  19. People search
All of these features are part of the SharePoint 2010 Social Computing feature-set, and, as I pointed out in my first post in this series, are intended to help organizations do a better job at knowledge networking.

After months of searching the Internet, I have found a lot of articles on many of these features, but I haven’t found a comprehensive series of articles that really aims to go both broad and deep into the subject area. That’s my goal with this series of articles, and you can look forward to many more after this one that will step you through the details of all of the features in the list above.

SharePoint Server 2010 Prerequisites for Social Computing

As you might expect from the long list of features I show above, there is a lot going on “under the hood” in SharePoint Server 2010 to enable the social computing features. My experience is that it can be a challenge to get all of the prerequisites properly set up. It can also be a challenge to figure out what component is configured improperly when troubleshooting problems once the features have already been deployed to the users.

The infrastructure prerequisites generally fall into two categories: 1) Service Applications and 2) Timer Jobs. Therefore, I’ll break up my discussion into those two categories.

Service Applications Required

It is not so obvious at first glance what service applications are required to be configured and running to enable the social computing features in SharePoint 2010. There are two: 1) the Managed Metadata service application, and 2) the User Profile service application. Neither of them has the term “social” in their names, but nevertheless, you have to have both of them properly configured and running.

A couple of visual clues that there may be something wrong with one or both of these services is to take a look at any SharePoint page in your environment where you expect the social computing features to be available. You should see the icons for “I Like it” and “Tags and Notes”:


You should also see the “My Site” and “My Profile” menu items on the drop down menu for the user control on the page:


If you don’t see all or some of these visual clues, then you need to proceed to Central Administration and determine if you have instances of the Managed Metadata service and the User Profile service running in your farm. (Note: SharePoint 2010 does not give the user an error message if these services are not running. It just doesn’t display the features that these services enable.)

It’s easy to see if you have instances of these services running in your SharePoint 2010 farm. Just go to Central Administration and navigate to the Manage Service Applications page to see if they have been provisioned and are running:



If you don’t have these service applications running in your SharePoint 2010 farm, then you will need to provision them by clicking on the New icon:


Explaining the configuration pages for these two services is beyond the scope of this article, but you should be able to easily find a number of articles that will walk you through the configuration steps.

Why does the Managed Metadata Service have to be running?

You might be wondering why it is necessary to have the Managed Metadata service application provisioned in order to use the social computing features? The reason is that the “tags” that users create when tagging pages, documents, list items, etc., get stored in the Keywords portion of the Term Store (which is the name of the central metadata repository that is maintained by the Managed Metadata service).

The Keywords portion of the Term Store is only half of the Managed Metadata repository. The other half is frequently referred to as the Taxonomy portion of the Term Store. The Taxonomy portion of the Term Store is hierarchical, while the Keywords portion is random. The master list of user tags gets stored randomly as they are created in the Keywords portion of the Term Store:


If the Managed Metadata service is not provisioned and running, users can’t use the social tagging features, because SharePoint 2010 has nowhere to maintain a master list of tags. One way to recognize that the Managed Metadata service is not provisioned/running properly is when your SharePoint site looks like this:



If you see this behavior in your SharePoint 2010 site, the first place to look is in Central Administration to verify that the Managed Metadata service is running.

One more point before moving on to the User Profile service application. I have been referring to the Keywords portion of the Managed Metadata Term Store as the place that SharePoint 2010 stores the “master list” of user tags. This is an important concept to understand, and here is a little more detail.

Each time a user starts to tag an item in SharePoint 2010, the Keywords portion of the Term Store is queried in real time to see if suggestions can be made to the user about previous keywords that other users have used. If a keyword appears in the list of suggestions and the user deems it suitable, the user can use it to tag the item. If not, the user can add their own unique keyword to the Keywords store and then it will be available for SharePoint 2010 to use as a suggestion in the future for other users.

So, the Keywords portion of the Term Store only stores one instance of a given keyword. That instance may be used by many users and many times as they tag items throughout SharePoint. Therefore, the Keywords list in the Term Store is truly a master list of unique keywords.

What does the User Profile Service Application Have to Do with SharePoint 2010 Social Computing?

The short answer is, “just about everything”. All of the plumbing to make the social computing features work in SharePoint 2010 is built into the User Profile service application.

When you provision the User Profile service application, the SQL Server database gets created that is needed to store all of the social data. And, that database contains a long list of tables that are required to make social computing work:


You can see from this screen shot that there are a number of tables that have names that that are fairly easy to figure out what feature of social computing they relate to. The “socialtag” tables relate to Tagging, the “socialcomments” tables relate to the Note Board, and the “socialratings” tables relate to the Ratings feature. So, this database needs to get created and that is one big part of what happens when you provision the User Profile service application in Central Administration.

The basic concepts of the User Profile service have been around since SharePoint Portal Server 2003. It was enhanced significantly in MOSS 2007. But, in both prior versions, the User Profile service’s primary scope and focus was to manage SharePoint’s User Profile database, synchronize it with a directory service (such as AD), and configure My Sites. In SharePoint 2010, the User Profile service continues to perform these roles in addition to providing the social computing infrastructure.

If you want to take advantage of the social computing features in SharePoint 2010, you will also need to properly configure the User Profile database and properly configure My Sites. The social computing features will not work without User Profiles and My Sites working.

If your User Profiles and My Sites are not set up and/or working properly, you will easily be able to tell by a user control that looks like this:


As I mentioned earlier in the article, the user control looks like this when User Profiles and My Sites are set up and working:


Timer Jobs Required

A fairly long list of timer jobs get provisioned and scheduled when you provision the User Profile service application in SharePoint 2010. Timer jobs have long been utilized in SharePoint Products and Technologies and it seems like with every new version of SharePoint, the list of timer jobs at least doubles. Timer jobs are processes that need to run on a schedule in the background to aggregate information, clean up data, and perform other process-oriented tasks.

In the case of SharePoint 2010, the User Profile service provisions 13 timer jobs:


(You can find the timer job list and definitions under Timer Job Definitions in the Monitoring section in SharePoint 2010 Central Administration).

Microsoft does not provide a lot of documentation on what each of the timer jobs do in SharePoint 2010. So, it is a little difficult to say which of these timer jobs is responsible for doing a particular task that is important to the proper functioning of a specific social computing feature. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that the following User Profile Timer Jobs need to be running on an appropriate schedule in order for social computing to work properly:
  • Social Data Maintenance Job
  • Social Rating Synchronization Job
  • My Site Suggestions Email Job
  • Activity Feed Job
  • Activity Feed Cleanup Job
In the previous paragraph, I mentioned the idea of “appropriate schedule”. It has been my experience that the out-of-the-box schedule for some of these timer jobs may not be appropriate in all situations. Certainly, in a demonstration/test scenario, the out-of-the-box schedules don’t work very well. Too much time is allowed between runs of some of the timer jobs to process the data and present the results back in the user interface on a timely basis. Even in some production environments, the out-of-the-box schedule may not produce fast enough results to suit the users.

 Here are the default schedules for the five social-oriented timer jobs I listed above:






You are free to change the schedule for any or all of these timer jobs that relate to social computing. In my demo/testing environments I routinely set them all to run every three minutes. Obviously, I would want to be very thoughtful in making changes to schedules in a production environment and consider the needs of my users and the server resource availability as well.

That’s it for the prerequisites for the SharePoint 2010 Social Computing features. By now, you should see that making all of these features work together and accomplish their purposes requires quite a lot of technical infrastructure “under-the-hood”. Hopefully, this article will help you make sure you have all of the right components provisioned from the start and/or help you troubleshoot problems that your users may surface as they are using the social computing features.

In my next post, I will drill into the details of what Tags are intended to be used for in SharePoint 2010 and exactly how they work.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Key to More Capable Workflows

SharePoint Solutions is pleased to announce the beta release of our new Workflow Essentials 2010.

Once installed to your SharePoint server, Workflow Essentials snaps right into SharePoint Designer 2010’s Workflow Designer “Activities” and “Conditions” to give you nearly double the workflow creation possibilities.

Need your workflow to:

- Loop through list items?
- Create a site?
- Send an email with an attachment?
- Grant permission on an item?

WE2010 makes all of that possible and a whole lot more. Your workflow action/condition options go from 37 to more than 60!

And your new options join the out-of-the-box activities and conditions right there in the Workflow Designer interface. No proprietary interface or new program to learn. It’s all right there in SharePoint Designer 2010.

You can begin designing more powerful, more capable, more sophisticated workflows right away!

Download the beta of Workflow Essentials 2010, and take it for a free test drive. You’ll be amazed at how much more you can accomplish with these expanded options.

Learn more about Workflow Essentials 2010.

Download the Workflow Essentials 2010 beta now.

We are happy to answer your questions about the product, both before and as you test it. Drop us an email or give us a call.

Best Regards,

Peter Roth
Director of Sales
SharePoint Solutions
(408) 678-0802

Friday, October 29, 2010

SharePoint 2010 Access Services Demo

We are starting to publish recordings of some of the demos of the labs our students go through in our Exploring SharePoint 2010 two-day class and our Upgrading to SharePoint 2010 four-day class.  Here is one from the module on Access Services:

Monday, October 25, 2010

SharePoint 2010 Social Networking: Part 2 - Where does it fit in?

Are the SharePoint 2010 Social Computing features what we have been missing all along to really do "knowledge networking" right in the corporate world?

(Note: This is the second post in this series. For the first post in this series and table of contents, go here).

I certainly wouldn't go that far. But, the features can play an important role in fostering better knowledge networking, due to some of their unique characteristics, as compared to the other vehicles (or approaches) we currently use for knowledge networking.

The purpose of this blog post is to highlight these unique knowledge networking characteristics so that I can make the benefits of each feature crystal clear in upcoming posts.

Below is a table I created that presents my view of some of the most commonly used "vehicles" for knowledge networking (first column) and their characteristics (columns 2 – 7). Before you dig into the table and see if you agree or disagree, take a minute to read the description for each column:
  • Availability of knowledge networking opportunity (column 2) – are opportunities to knowledge network using the vehicle available to everyone or is an invitation to the opportunity required?
  • Requirements to discover new knowledge (column 3) – does the individual have to seek and/or participate actively to discover new knowledge, or is the appropriate knowledge pushed automatically to the individual?
  • Velocity at which knowledge can be shared (column 4) – how rapidly or slowly does the vehicle allow participants to share knowledge? In general, any vehicle that utilizes the spoken word is going to allow for more rapid sharing than vehicles that utilize the written word. Why? Because people can talk and listen faster than they can type and read.
  • Relative volume of knowledge that can be shared (column 5) – there can be big differences in the volume of knowledge that can be shared due to the unique characteristics of one vehicle as compared to another.
  • Level of overhead required (column 6) – how much overhead (non-knowledge networking effort and time) is required to use the vehicle for knowledge networking purposes?
  • Level of disruption to other work tasks (column 7) – what level of disruption to other work tasks is required of an individual to participate in knowledge networking using the vehicle?

Commonly used vehicles for internal knowledge networking/sharingAvailability of knowledge networking opportunityRequirements to discover new knowledgeVelocity at which knowledge can be sharedRelative volume of knowledge that can be sharedLevel of overhead requiredLevel of disruption to other work tasks
Formal Face-to-Face MeetingsAvailable by invitation onlyYou must seek/participate FastMedium8High10High12
Phone/web conferencingAvailable by invitation onlyYou must seek/participateFastMedium8Medium10High12
Informal Face-to-Face Meetings (e.g. in the hall, at the water cooler)In many cases available to anyone who is around, but sometimes informally closedYou must seek/participateFastLow8LowMedium12
EmailAvailable by invitation only1You must seek/participate, with exception to "Reply All" conversations3Slow5LowLowLow13
Instant MessagingAvailable by invitation only1You must seek/participateMediumLowLowLow to Medium13
Search (Enterprise and/or web)Available to anyone2You must seek/participateSlow6High9LowMedium14
Social Computing Features in SharePoint 2010Available to anyone2Knowledge gets pushed to you based on your stated interests and organizational characteristics4Medium7High9Low11Low to Medium14

1 I consider Email and IM "available by invitation only", because most email conversations within organizations are initiated by one person with a closed group of one or more other people in mind. If someone sends an email to the entire organization requesting knowledge to be shared, in most cases the results are not very good (or appreciated J).

2 I consider Search and SP 2010 Social Computing to be knowledge networking vehicles that are generally available to anyone in the organization. Of course, both Search and Social Computing are security trimmed in SharePoint 2010, but for the things you have access to, no invitation is needed to discover them.

3 In the case where the "CC" and "Reply to All" features of email are used with the intent of sharing knowledge with people who need that knowledge, some knowledge is actually "pushed" to some recipients of the email who otherwise may not have known about the conversation. Unfortunately, the recipient does not get to choose when this occurs or doesn't occur.

4 One of the most unique characteristics of the SharePoint 2010 Social Computing features is that new knowledge gets discovered and pushed automatically to you based on your stated interests and characteristics as a member of the organization. None of the other vehicles have this characteristic. I will go into the mechanics of how this is achieved in a future blog post in this series.

5 In my opinion, Email is definitely the slowest and most inefficient vehicle we use for sharing knowledge. Unfortunately, it is still the most prevalent vehicle in most organizations.

6 I rate Search as a relatively slow vehicle for sharing knowledge, because it can require a tremendous about of "search refinements" to find useful information. Also, because new knowledge must be obtained by reading, it is relatively slower than meetings and phone calls.

7 Social Computing in SP 2010 offers a nice sweet spot between the slower vehicles of Email and Search and the more rapid person-to-person vehicles of meetings and phone calls. In a future post, I will clearly explain why I believe this is true.

8 While the most rapid form of knowledge networking takes place in person-to-person meetings using the spoken word, the volume of knowledge networking that can take place is limited by the number of people who can effectively participate in the meeting.

9 Search and Social Computing in SP 2010 offer the possibility of high volume knowledge networking if they are implemented in a way that allows as many people in the organization to participate as possible.

10 Formal face-to-face meetings require the most overhead to set up and conduct. People have to be contacted and schedules checked before a final date/time can be set. Meeting rooms and other resources have to be reserved. Conference calls and web meetings can eliminate the need to reserve meeting rooms and allow attendees to avoid short or long travel to the meeting, but setting the date/time and scheduling it with all attendees is still time consuming overhead.

11 As you will learn in a later post, Microsoft has done an excellent job in designing the SharePoint 2010 Social Computing features to minimize the amount of overhead that individuals have to incur to participate and get the benefits.

12 There is no question about it, meetings and phone calls are the most disruptive vehicle when it comes to taking time out of a person's day and other work tasks. As long as the benefits of the meeting/phone call outweigh the costs, it can be worth it, but too often they don't.

13 Some people might say that Email and Instant Messaging are very disruptive vehicles for knowledge networking. I disagree, but am assuming the individual knows when to "say no" to email and IM. If you can never close out your email client or set your IM status to "do not disturb", then I agree that either of these vehicles can be extremely disruptive.

14 I rate Search as a medium-level disruptor because it is so easy to get lost in the search refining and reviewing process and realize minutes or hours later that more time has passed by than was originally intended. To a certain degree, the same can be true when using the Social Computing features of SP 2010, because a certain amount of "guided surfing" is required to absorb the knowledge networking opportunities it provides.

That's it for this post. If you read this far, thanks for sticking with it and I hope you found it valuable! From here on, the posts will be oriented towards explaining specific SharePoint 2010 Social Computing features in detail.

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.


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 :)

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.