SharePoint as Your Social Software?

(c) Sean Bordner

(c) Sean Bordner

The Microsoft and Facebook expanded partnership announcement a while back (worth $240 Million to Facebook) would lead one to seriously think about SharePoint as a business social networking platform.  “Business” social networking involves linking information workers and teams together.
 
This post aims to identify some of the Social Networking aspects of SharePoint 2007 (which have been extended even further with SharePoint 2010).  But the point is, SharePoint has been providing these capabilities for a long time.  If you don’t plan on upgrading to SharePoint 2010 for a while, that doesn’t mean you can’t have social networking capabilities now.

SharePoint 2007 already has the following business social networking capabilities:

My Sites
My Sites are individualized sites created for each user profile that contains personnel information about the user as well as personal and public views of information, documents and other content. The My Site can contain personal and targeted blogs, wikis, lists and web parts displaying colleagues and other profile information. The My Site allows users to present information about their skills, individuals they know as well as other social information to visitors.

Colleagues Web Part
The colleagues web part allows users to present their mined and compiled colleagues to visitors. The colleagues list is a presentation of other organization members that the specified user works closely with in terms of organizational structure, interaction (i.e., email conversations and instant messaging contact lists) and group/site memberships. SharePoint can make recommendations regarding a colleague based on commonality of interactivity with these small groups, but users can also manually add and remove colleagues.

SharePoint Sites, Links, and Membership Web Parts
These web parts provide the ability for users to view their own Office SharePoint Server site, group and mail list memberships and links as well as those that they have in common with others. Additionally, visitors can view a user’s memberships, Office SharePoint Server Sites and distribution group memberships.

In Common With Web Part
Office SharePoint Server provides a summary view of information relating to the memberships, organizational managers and colleagues that a visitor has in common with the owner of a My Site.

Presence Information
When coupled with Office Communications Server and Exchange Server, presence information indicating online instant messaging status, Out of Office messages and contact information is displayed whenever user information is presented (i.e., colleagues and colleague tracker web parts, etc.).
People Search

Office SharePoint Server supports the discovery of team members, colleagues and other individuals by exposing a search interface in which information workers can search on the organization’s personnel. Results are returned to users and are presented in terms of social distance and relevance for grouping. The search can further be refined by user profile attributes including job title and alternatively be viewed based on search term relevance.

People Search By User Profile Property
In addition to the various methods organization members can search on individuals using the people search capability, user profile properties displayed on the public profile property page of information worker’s My Site can automatically conduct a people search for individuals with the same property and value grouped by social distance. For example, individuals with a specific interest can select by clicking the interest from their own My Site profile and find others with a similar interest.

User Profile
The user profile is a foundational component that collects and stores data regarding users of an Office SharePoint Server implementation. The profile contains a set of default fields that are extensible by administrators and customizable for organizations. The fields can be sourced from a variety of personnel information within an organization directly and combined to form a holistic view of users. As depicted in the figure below, data sources that populate user profiles can originate from Active Directory as well as an organization’s Human Resource Information System (HRIS) via the Business Data Catalog (BDC). By combining this information, enriched data regarding an individual’s skills, area of expertise, title, job description, etc. can be exposed through Office SharePoint Server’s social networking features.

Organizational Hierarchy
The organizational hierarchy is a critical construct that allows Office SharePoint Server to begin the establishment of colleagues for users. The organizational hierarchy is built directly from fields within the user profile object for each user.

It is of vital importance that the organizational hierarchy is reviewed and accepted by the organization as it is one of the critical foundational elements of Office SharePoint Server’s social networking capabilities. If the organizational hierarchy is not accurate, all further mining and relationships between colleagues can be adversely affected. The best way to ensure that the hierarchy is accurate is to validate the information supplied to the user profile and resolve any differences and inaccuracies between the data sources that feed the profile.

The information in the user profile is used to tie together individuals to managers and peers. Once the hierarchy is established, it can be displayed on user’s My Site as well as used in the analysis to create a list of colleagues. For this reason, it is important to implement an information architecture that provides the user profile with the most accurate information for personnel, teams, colleagues and membership information.

Colleagues
Colleagues represent a core underpinning of the social networking experience. By enumerating colleagues and displaying them on user’s My Site and profile information through various web parts, organization members can easily view and connect with individuals that hold relationships to specific teams, initiatives and interests.
 
Colleagues are built on the information constructed from the organizational hierarchy. Thus, immediate peers, managers and direct reports are included in a specific user’s list of colleagues. They are also further enumerated by a mining process. Office SharePoint Server analyzes interactions of individual users by mining instant messaging contacts and Microsoft Office 2007. SharePoint communicates with the Office 2007 clients (i.e. Outlook, Communicator, etc.) using an ActiveX control whenever a user is added as a member of another user’s colleague and has consented through his/her My Site.

The above information is from a Microsoft SharePoint Products and Technologies Team post (http://blogs.msdn.com/sharepoint/archive/2007/10/24/enabling-and-managing-social-networks-for-business-use-with-microsoft-office-sharepoint-server-2007.aspx).  Their post contains more information on this regard and is well worth checking out!

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About Sean Bordner

CEO, Solution Architect, Co-Author of SharePoint for Nonprofits, Contributing Author NothingButSharePoint.com MCT, MCTS, MCSD, MCP, MCAD
This entry was posted in My Sites, SharePoint, Social Networking. Bookmark the permalink.

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