The Evolution of the SharePoint Blog

The concept of blogging is not new. For example, I’ve been using the Typepad platform for this blog since 2002, and prior to that was manually editing the HTML on my own company website, pushing images and documents to my site manually via a file transfer protocol (FTP) utility. It was a bit of a hassle, and not exactly consumer-friendly. Blogging came into the mainstream conscience by the late 1990’s, but had its beginnings in the early days of the world wide web, back when the internet was the private network of a privileged few. For a full history of blogging with important names and dates, you can always read up on Wikipedia. My focus here is more on the business applicability of blogs, and their history inside of the SharePoint ecosystem.

Access to information is critical to success in this day and age. Blogs have helped to democratize information, allowing each of us to share our expertise and opinions, and allowing us to tap into the the long tail of information (A couple must-reads are Chris Anderson’s Long Tail – with a link to his original article, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers)

What makes an expert an expert, anyway? While the value of formal research remains at a premium, the opinion of so-called experts has become a commodity. (For example, why am I, with my MBA and 25 years of industry experience less of an expert than a 20-something research analyst at Forrester?) In a world of 24 hour news cycles, our thirst for more information – specifically, information that meets our social, political, and theological perspectives – has grown astronomically. And with this thirst, blogging and microblogging (Twitter and its contemporaries) have exploded.

The root cause of this explosion is not just about the improvements to the underlying technology – although technology has certainly increased the rate of change – but about cultural changes. The social communication technologies that we now take for granted have been dramatically altered over the last 20 years, and the blogging platform has played a major role in that change.

Blogs enable dialog between content owner and constituency, quickly and inexpensively, turning one-to-one communication into many-to-many communication, which over time can drive down support costs, reduce product requirements cycles, and improve the overall customer relationship.

From a business perspective, this tight connection with customers allows for constant reflection on imagewhat works / what doesn’t. It forces companies to be more vigilant about their brand, allowing them to react quickly to customer complaints or queries. From a capitalist perspective, this also drives healthy competition and innovation, as companies have a direct view into a competitor’s dirty laundry and the known gaps within a product or platform.

Within SharePoint, there was a similar – if not slow – progression in blogging technology. In WSS 2.0 and SPS 2001, the paradigm of blogging had not yet shifted, and site owners who wanted blog-like functionality (it had not yet entered the average user’s lexicon, even if the fundamentals of blogging were in place) were limited to using content web parts and announcements to achieve their desired result of user/site owner content. Much like the static website, they could alter their portal, but this was once again a one-way, broadcast model of communication.

imageIn SharePoint 2007, Microsoft added some basic blogging capability, but the technology fell far short  of the innovation happening within commercial offerings, such as Blogger,WordPress, and Typepad. With the 2010 release, SharePoint began in earnest to pay attention to what was happening within the mainstream, with Microsoft’s first real attempt to make blogging seamlessly integrated across the platform. Unfortunately, 2010 blogs still had issues, and the out-of-the-box experience was somewhat lacking: automation was not, well, automatic, and the tag cloud terms were disconnected from the content (the terms were actually connected to the SharePoint site’s content and keywords, rather than the blog content). [Note: I authored a chapter on making the blog template work inside of SharePoint 2010 in the book SharePoint 2010: Creating and Implementing Real-World Projects]

imageThe blogging paradigm within SharePoint is fairly simple: your blog is accessible through your My Site, and your entries show up on your activity feed. With SharePoint 2010, Microsoft simplified blog management, giving administrators the ability to quickly and easily add, modify, and remove posts, comments, links, photos, and change the look and feel of their blog. Readers then had the ability to comment, flag as a favorite (I Like It), and to tag and add notes, all of which appear in the user’s My Site activity stream for others to discover.

imageWithin SharePoint 2013, blogging is once again part of the default NewsFeed experience (part of your personalized MySite experience), but this out of the gate, the out-of-the-box experience works out-of-the-box, and with some of the native social capabilities within the platform, you can easily publish and push your blog content out to your entire team, or, as I primarily use it, document and publish, making this content part of our corporate archives for future search results. Because I blog in a dozen different locations (this site, CMSWire, AIIM.org, TechRepublic, B2C, Wired, and others), the SharePoint blog has become a place to summarize and archive activities to help me document my activities. But that’s just one use case, and it may not fit your own business needs.

As you can see from the screenshot below, the blogging interface in SharePoint 2013 is much more streamlined, and management of your content, comments, and categories (topics) are much more straight-forward.

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Of course, if you missed the SharePoint Conference keynote earlier this month from Las Vegas, you may not have heard that Microsoft was very explicit about where they are investing in social going forward – Yammer. While we’re not yet sure what this means for future releases of the on premises SharePoint platform as far as the blog template (and within the community template), with many organizations using the template, I’ll assume it will be supported going forward. But Microsoft has made it crystal clear that all new social innovation is happening in the cloud via SharePoint Online (part of Office 365) and Yammer. For many organizations, blogging has been trending toward Yammer anyway.

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For me, my internal posts were moving away from static content (traditional blog posts were more like feature articles) and more toward interactive discussions – where I was asking questions and seeking feedback. That’s what Yammer is about. You can still author long posts of deep technical and business thought-leadership, but more often than not what we share through this kind of platform are the short, conversational articles as a way to elicit customer and partner (and peer) feedback. Hence, the term microblogging was born.

imageIt’s fascinating to look back across SharePoint’s history, through which you can see some of the leaps and bounds the IT industry has gone through in the social technology sphere. As Microsoft demonstrated during the keynotes at SPC14, where we are headed is to a much more personalized and contextual content experience, where the term “blogging” feels as outdated as the underlying technology. We are entering a world where OfficeGraph and search will feed us the information we want and need before we even know what we want or need, based on our profile, our content consumption patterns, and our social circles. Instead of going to individual sites to consume content, and without having to track and manage site feeds, our systems will dynamically track our data behaviors, and based on the context in which we are working (checking email, browsing the web, collaborating within a SharePoint team site) will provide us with the most relevant data.

It’s going to be an interesting year as some of this technology begins to unfold.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.