Is SharePoint 2013 good enough to be your enterprise social network?

Since the SharePoint 2013 preview became generally available, I’ve read many reviews highlighting the new social features that Microsoft have developed. In summary, SharePoint 2013 new social features include:

  • Upgraded activity feeds and microblogging.
  • Community sites that provide reputation and gamification features.

When you look at the entire SharePoint 2013 package and the way they have been integrated, these are actually a significant step forward for SharePoint as an enterprise social platform. But does this mean it is finally ready as an out-of-the-box enterprise social network?

How social is SharePoint 2013 under the hood?

Getting past the reviews of SharePoint 2013’s social features from the user interface perspective, I actually think its important to know if Microsoft had changed SharePoint’s architecture to be more social or if these new features are merely cosmetic. The good news is that these changes aren’t simply “hacks” that:

  • Social activity data for users now lives either in their personal site (My Site) or within a site – this supersedes the old newsfeed found in SharePoint 2010.
  • A cache system is used to improve the performance of aggregating social activity into a personalised view of that activity, which is accessed from each user’s personal site (My Site).
  • SharePoint provides an API that can be used to extend its out of the box social functionality.
  • Cloud integration (through Microsoft’s Windows Azure service) also potentially forms part of the total social package.

However, this is still SharePoint and there are some limitations in this out of the box architecture. For example:

  • The ‘everyone’ feed is always public and no security trimming is applied – if you want to share privately within or to a specific group of users, you’ll need to create a site (and only one site at a time).
  • Reputation and gifted badges are site specific, so your actions in one community aren’t recognised in another.
  • Social activity is also only aggregated across sites and users in the same server farm – this could be an issue for organisations with more complex deployments.

Some of the individual features are also quite immature in the SharePoint 2013 preview and it important to consider what is missing (and often standard in comparable enterprise social software):

  • Users can configure notifications and what activities they want to share, but there is no option to receive a digest email of activity.
  • A smartphone optimised view is available, but there is no dedicated social or activity view for mobile or tablets.
  • There is no desktop app.
  • There don’t appear to be any tools for reporting specifically on social activity either.

The user experience of tagging is a particularly good example where the feature feels incomplete, particularly in comparison to other enterprise social networking solutions.

Is SharePoint 2013 social enough?

My overall impression is that SharePoint 2013 continues to be a complex, document-centric platform that often suffers from user experiences challenges (either through the out of the box architecture or the user interface). But lets remember, most organisations won’t select SharePoint on its social features alone, so I don’t expect this to effect its popularity.

At best, SharePoint 2013 may open the door for organisations already using SharePoint that are agnostic about deploying enterprise social networking to see some of the benefits first hand with little investment. Organisations that deliberately pin their hopes on SharePoint 2013 providing a complete enterprise social platform will be disappointed. This actually isn’t a new story for SharePoint – to get the best from SharePoint 2013’s social features you should expect to continue investing effort in governance along with either customisation, extensions (such as Newsgator) or by integrating with another solution (Yammer and many others).

But don’t take my word for it – its worth reiterating that Microsoft have said as much themselves:

“We are providing the key plumbing: document management, enterprise search, tagging, and line of business (LOB) integration. We do have basic social features in SharePoint, they will be improved in [SharePoint 2013] but that will not be at the level of feature richness that Newsgator has. If you go with what is in our current products or what you’ve heard is coming in [SharePoint 2013], you’re betting on a baseline set of features. I would say as a customer don’t wait for [SharePoint 2013], unless you’ve got a really slow social media strategy or unless you want to use some really baseline features, I would start going ahead with our platform and Newsgator on top.”

Echoing Microsoft’s advice, you don’t need to wait for SharePoint 2013 to make SharePoint your enterprise social network. However, customising your current installation of SharePoint is likely to be a higher risk strategy, because of the new social architecture in SharePoint 2013. A safer option will be to pick a third-party solution and take that with you when you eventually upgrade to SharePoint 2013.

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